One happy consequence of the tenure of that icon of greed, Fred "The Shred" Goodwin, as chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland has been the release of hundreds of thousands of square footage of prime central London office space. And agencies have been quick to seize the opportunity to move into these exciting locations, once the home of disgraced bankers long since despatched with their boxes and (un)lucky Gonks.
If visiting the desolate and windswept Bankside 2 and 3, the home of large swathes of the Omnicom empire, wasn’t thrilling enough, McCann Worldgroup has just announced that it is taking over a nondescript former RBS building next to Liverpool Street station to house 1,200 of its people.
Logistically, the move makes obvious sense – a potent symbol of the integration and collaboration that clients claim to be crying out for. After all, steel and smoked glass smacks of modernity and professionalism, too, putting agencies back on a par with those grasping tech giants and bland management consultancies that have been steadily gnawing away at advertising’s lunch.
Mark Lund, chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, claims to be excited by the move. "You want people to feel that their own individual identity and tribe is important, but you want them to feel part of a bigger movement at the same time," he trilled, stressing that each of its component parts – that includes McCann London, MRM McCann and FutureBrands – would retain their own character, such as they are. There’s also the unspoken benefit of reducing costs.
But emotionally, such spaces are somewhat lacking. At worst, they are anonymous call-centre spaces – but without the requirement to put your hand up if you need the loo – no doubt designed to maximise workstream efficiencies. At best, they might have a franchised eaterie on the ground floor that offers a discount on the production of a staff card.
That said, stone walls do not a prison make, nor glass partitions and false ceilings a cage (something not lost on me, writing this from a refurbed former Inland Revenue office in the Surrey suburbs). But they often don’t exactly help with the creative process. It might be why many creatives get their best ideas away from the office, away from the gentle whirring of the air conditioning and the incessant tapping of colleagues keyboards – whether that be wandering the streets, sitting in a café away from the office or at a shed at home, which, rather neatly, is probably where the disgraced Goodwin now finds himself spending the majority of his time.
Jeremy Lee is a contributing editor at Campaign