Blame Chiat/Day: Or, How Do We Solve The Agency Office Design Problem?

Here’s a recipe for disaster:

1 part novelty

1 part hype

1 part economic efficiency

The result? The open office floorplan!

Yes, the once revolutionary solve-all for workplace collaboration, innovation and cultural reinvention has fallen on hard times.  FastCo.Labs recently ran an article under the title, Death to the Open Office Floor Plan! which does a pretty good job of outlining what many people already know – sitting in a giant room, within earshot (and virus shot) of 40 co-workers may not be best for, well, much of anything. Last month Fast Company ran a piece on the Top 10 things people hate about open office which, after reading it, will likely lead you to utter aloud, “no kidding.”  It all seems pretty obvious really. So how did we in the creative world get here? Blame Jay Chiat. Wired certainly did.

Ok, not really, but certainly his legendary office transformation in L.A. kickstarted the trend. Opened in 1994, every employee got a laptop and a cell phone and entered the workplace, left to fend for themselves. Only a couple of years later, this concept was abandoned “to combat employees’ overwhelmingly negative response.” But Chiat was finished yet, the move ushered in a new era of creative workplace design. Chiat/Day moved to […] a vast warehouse designed for 500 employees by Clive Wilkinson Architects, are a microcosmic ”Chiat town” of private and group work spaces and public ”streets” and meeting places that provide for every kind of company activity. Staff members enjoy kaffeeklatsches in a ”Central Park,” mingle on a ”main street” and have a work space they can call home in surrounding ”neighborhoods.”

That 1998 New York Times piece was followed two years later by an essay in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. Now this is pre-Tipping Point Gladwell, but it’s got all the elements of a great Gladwell piece. He brings in some arcane reference points, niche experts and weaves an fascinating story on workplace design, referencing the Chiat/Day office evolutions. Gladwell, as Gladwell does so well, writes convincingly about group dynamics, psychology and human behaviors, all the while lacing it with expert testimony from people like an M.I.T. researcher who found that if colleagues were stationed too far apart, they rarely interacted, and in fact were more likely to engage with someone outside their office (and this was before email and the Internet!) than a co-worker on the other side of the building. And so Chiat’s Office Reinvention 2.0, an urban city concept seems an intriguing one. How we got from there to people staring at screens and wearing headphones is another story. [You can read the full Gladwell piece here].

In a more recent New Yorker piece, Maria Konnikova writes: In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. 

And so creative agencies in recent years have looked for other ways to promote creativity and innovation. Jorge Barba of the Game Changer blog recently wrote about office design and innovation, noting, “Up there with “innovation”, “lean startup”and “design thinking”, the latest word to make it to buzzword-bingo is “Lab”.

Writing for the Influx Insights blog in 2010, Ed Cotton notes that, “[h]aving a “lab” mentality is a must for agencies today.” He cites efforts by BBH and Ogilvy in this area, noting their different approaches to the idea. Creative Bloq takes an even deeper dive into agency labs in this piece, concluding, “If we can learn anything about labs from the agencies we spoke to, it’s that without them you can easily miss fantastic opportunities – not just to identify emerging technology and ideas, but to find brilliant people willing to push your agency to the next level.”

But ultimately it’s not the office layout that determines collaboration. Christening an area as your “Lab” doesn’t guarantee superior creativity. Those attributes are the result of culture and that’s determined by who you hire and the people in charge of leading the organization. Every agency is different – location and clients being just two factors – and who (and how) you hire is a far greater influence on culture that office design.  But even more important is the mindset and actions of the people at the top. They set the tone and if innovation and collaboration are not just what they talk about, but who they are, then the rest of the agency will take their lead.

Is that enough however, or is there another factor at play? More so than office design, is the size of the agency an inhibitor to great work? Maybe it’s not open floor plan per se that is the problem, but rather than agencies try to fit 50 or 60 people into that model. Does open floor plan work better with 10 people or less? Does collaboration in general have an equivalent to Dunbar’s Number? Perhaps, rather than putting the entire planning department together, or an entire agency, in one big room, the answer is to create a series of smaller open areas where teams can congregate is the right option. I’m sure this happens at many agencies, I’ve certainly been a part of ad hoc ‘war rooms’ for big pitches or other temporary projects, but maybe that should be instituted on a more formal, permanent basis.

#AWX Recap 1 – Considering the Client-Agency Creative Partnership

Last week was the 10th Annual Advertising Week here in New York City.  I wasn’t able to attend as many events as I did last year, but would like to share my thoughts on a couple of panels I did attend. This post originally appeared on TheAWSC.


Advertising Week kicked off Monday with the usual bevy of panels and events throughout midtown Manhattan. I had hoped on attending several of the talks, but, as is often the case, work found of way of altering my plans and my schedule. But I was able to make one session, and it was one I’m glad I caught because it touched on a subject I don’t often hear discussed. Entitled Unlocking Client Creativity, the panel, moderated by Jennifer Rooney, CMO, Network Editor, Forbes, focused on how agencies and brands can work together for greater creative output.

Having worked in the agency world, across various industries, for more than a decade I can tell you that this is a vital issue, and one that is rarely focused on.  We’re all familiar with the usual paradigm: Agency bleeds and sweats, then presents the ideas to a client who, not unlike the Roman Emperors of ancient times, gives a thumbs up or thumbs down to the ideas. It’s been this way, well, it’s been this way as long as there have been agencies and clients. I think we all pretty much take it for granted that that’s the way it’s done.

I’ve been involved in my share of agency-client brainstorming sessions, but these never quite feel like a real stage for true creative ideation. It’s more of a team bonding exercise, or a way for the agency to show that they really value the client. Everyone leaves saying what a great time they had and how terrific the session was, but I don’t think I’ve ever really seen breakthrough ideas come from such an arrangement.

But this session was about getting deeper than that. It was about true partnerships. How in-house agencies can work with outside agencies; how (and when) it might be appropriate to engage ‘the crowd;’ and the importance of setting up methodologies that can help keep things on the right course. The panelists included execs from DDB and their client, Glidden paints, as well as Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4As, as well as Terry Young, CEO and Founder of Sparks & Honey.   Young made a point that I thought was quite important, noting how crucial it is for client-side decision makers to be involved throughout the process, rather than just at the end. Nothing’s worse than spending weeks on an idea only to have it killed by someone who hasn’t been invested in the idea at any point along the way.

I can see why co-creation with the client would be a challenge. Do they have the resources (time, skill) to participate? Will ego (on both sides) sabotage the whole operation? Does compensation need to be factored differently? Fair questions, but in an industry where some things are broken, and others are being significantly disrupted, it’s worth considering an idea that, if correctly executed, could lead to more work being sold.


7 Reasons to Vote for 7 Panels at #SXSW

sxsw panel pickerEvery year since 1987 thousands of people from around the world flock to Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film, and music festival.

SXSW has become one of the most dynamic and intriguing yearly events for marketers. Last year the interactive week alone attracted over 30,000 thinkers, doers, investors, innovators, fans, startup hopefuls, and lovers of all things tech to the city to share and discover new ideas, technology, and products.

It’s our job to keep our clients in the know and bring them the best creative and innovation solutions, so we want to be there next year in a big way, especially since it’s in the backyard of our newly renamed Y&R Austin.

It’s a great place to learn and exchange ideas and next year several members of the Y&R network are hoping to get on stage and share their expertise. But competition is tough, with hundreds of people submitting panels.

Part of the selection process is based on votes from the public, so we’re asking for your help to make sure our Y&R, VML, & Team BAC experts get their chance to shine!

It’s easy to help, just follow these instructions:

  1. Go to
  2. Once there, sign in or sign up
  3. Then, go vote for all of these submissions below.

And why should you help? Here’s 7 reasons:

  1. It’s fast and easy. Sign in, click the thumbs up and you’re done. Voting for these 7 panels should take you about 5 minutes or less.
  2. It’s free. Doesn’t cost a penny to help these people out.
  3. Good karma – helping someone out, even (especially?) if you don’t know them, will make you feel good.
  4. It means a lot to the submitters. Everyone who puts together a submission worked really hard on it, and they’ll work even harder to make their presentation great. It’s very prestigious to speak at SxSW, and this would be a real career highlight.
  5. It’s not a zero sum game. You can vote for as many panels as you want, so why not vote for these as well?
  6. I’m happy to return the favor. Leave a comment saying you voted and what panel you’d like me to vote for and I will. I’ll even tweet it for you.
  7. If there panels aren’t chosen, each one of these people will have to choose between losing their jobs, or seeing a puppy put down. (Ok, that’s not true).

Ok, here are the submissions…

Submitter: Piotr Jakubowski, Head of Digital, VML Qais Indonesia

Title: Half a Billion Reasons to Think Beyond China

Click here to vote!


Submitter: Sosia Bert, Executive Producer of Digital Content, Y&R New York

Title: Talk to the Future: The DigiGen is Different

Click here to vote!


Submitter: Sosia Bert, Executive Producer of Digital Content, Y&R New York

Title: Organizized: Tricks to Make Your Work Life Better

Click here to vote!


Submitter: Debbi Vandeven, Chief Creative Officer, VML Kansas City

Title: How Female Leadership Boosts the Bottom Line

Click here to vote!


Submitter: Mike Lundgren, Partner, Director of Innovation Strategy, VML Kansas City

Title: How to put on a badass TEDx event

Click here to vote!


Submitter: Matt Colangelo, Senior Brand Planner, Y&R New York

Title: How to Sell Your Side Project: 90 Days of Making

Click here to vote!

Watch their great submission video:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.



Submitter: Michael Cole, SVP, Group Planning Director, Team BAC

Title: Improving Financial Literacy One Click at a Time

Click here to vote!

The Importance of “Makeable Ideas”

I wrote this piece originally for Fast.Co.Create back in November of 2012.

It’s an ever-increasing refrain–agencies need to make things. In order to compete and be relevant in today’s fragmented, disrupted, disintermediated marketing/media world, agencies need to rethink their models and produce something more than just Big Ideas. Allison Kent-Smith, founder of Smith & Beta, put it thusly in a recent Co.Create article:“It’s no longer just about great ideas. It’s about great ideas that get made.”

Now, one can argue that this is just another business management fad that will pass and that ad agencies should stick to doing what they do best–coming up with compelling communication ideas. But let’s for a moment go with this line of thinking and agree that agencies need to fundamentally change. If you take the time to think about it rather than just accept the idea you’ll hit a brick wall of reality: Forget actually making something; most agencies probably aren’t fully equipped to think of things that can get made.

By that I mean, one doesn’t simply start thinking like a designer or engineer after spending years thinking like an artist or author. All of those professions have built formal modes of thinking that best suit the output they create. Thinking in the same way to create a different solution is unlikely to produce the desired results. Rather, you must first mentally step back, then shift laterally, then dive into the new style of thinking. In other words, before agencies can create “makeable things” they need to create “makeable ideas.”

This is a significant shift for an agency, not just something that can be communicated in an email or PowerPoint presentation. It’s a fundamental change and requires a new way of thinking not just for creative but for senior management, HR, accounts, and planning.

Creating things in our digital world requires experts in UI/UX and design, creative technologists and others who may not be part of the existing agency structure. It requires a commitment to the concept of “platforms, not campaigns.” It probably necessitates a new fee structure as well. These are all long-term changes for an agency.

Once all that is in place an agency is still not ready to start making things. First they must train themselves to conceive of “makeable ideas.” What do I mean by that? If in an internal creative meeting the idea ends with someone saying, “And then the monkey grabs the dad’s cell phone!” you’re not concepting “makeable ideas.” This is where planners really need to play an essential role. Not to stifle creativity, but to unleash it in a focused direction. Planners should guide the creative towards ideas that can be downloaded, worn, played, customized, broken into constituent parts, crowdfunded, gamified, or otherwise hacked. When you start thinking that way you are starting to create a “makeable idea.”

“Makeable ideas” don’t spring solely from a creative team. They come from a multi-disciplinary collaborative effort. Much of what is in Kent-Smith’s article rings true because she understands this fundamental truth. She states, “An agency must have user experience, interaction design, and information architecture front and center. UX experts are not easy to find, but heavy hitters in this area will transform ideas that are impossible to ideas that are reality.”

Here are five steps agencies need to take to start creating “makeable ideas” that will lead to “makeable things”:


From traditional creatives to coders, UX designers to fashion designers, bring in people with different skills sets. You’re ideating for a different solution, you need different inputs.


It’s not about a 30-second spot or banner ad. It’s about ideas that can evolve and support a multitude of additional ideas.


Can your idea connect to the Internet? If not, it’s probably not a viable platform for the 21st century.


“Makeable Ideas” are tweaked, nuanced, and massaged and gather strength as they face testing. Conceive, test, improve.


Many of the best platforms understand how to balance consumer behaviors that transcend between physical and digital. Think about how your idea engages people in a physical space, or physically, as well as in a digital or mobile space.

Ignition: The Marketing Revolution

This is an edited version of last week’s Ignition newsletter, my weekly look at a topic I believe is of interest to marketers. If you’d like to receive this in your email each Monday morning, fill out the form on the right.

Adapt or Die. Sounds like something recently uttered by any number of marketing gurus. In fact, attribution is owed to former South African Prime Minister, P.W. Botha. But South Africa’s ability to adapt is a tale for another day. Right now I want to talk about how brands are taking this lesson, as well as academia’s “publish or perish” rule, to heart. If you read Digiday, the headlines this past week told you that change was truly afoot. Here’s a sampling:

How Virgin Mobile Fell in Love with Content
Brands Cozy up to Start-Ups
The Onion’s Quest to Make Brands Funny

Or how about this one from Mashable: New York Times Launches Start-Up Incubator

Those are pretty provocative titles if you ask me. I don’t think they signal acts of desperation, but rather an acknowledgement by brands that cultural and business shifts are happening so quickly, and in ways they are ill-suited to react to, that partnerships are the only way they can maintain their footing. Smart brands are realizing that posting “like this if you think puppy dogs are cute!” as a Facebook status is not going to get the job done. As a result, partnerships with Buzzfeed, The Onion, Funny or Die and Vice make sense. Those content publishers have cracked the code. They understand culture and what type of content people want to engage in, something that the vast majority of brands don’t understand very well.

Start-Ups present brands with an opportunity to inject new ideas and perhaps a needed shot of enthusiasm into the mix. The Mashable piece notes, “The goal is to seek out new ways of creating, collecting and distributing news and information. The Times says it’s primarily seeking startups focused on mobile, social, video, ad technology, analytics or e-commerce who have raised “at least” seed-stage funding.”

Of course this brings up its own set up problems. Which content providers do I partner with? How do I identify which start-ups to engage? What’s a hackathon?

Great questions and no easy answers. So much of this is still new territory, with numerous players and myriad options. This is where a trusted agency partner can play a vital role. With an intimate understanding of the brand, a history of crafting compelling stories and a knowledge of how to engage with culture (that’s my bit), an agency can identify the right opportunity, collaborate and leverage the partnership for maximum effect.

At Y&R we understand the need for this type of thinking, and the process behind it. Through our Spark Plug program we’ve partnered with a variety of small, innovative companies that create some of the most cutting edge technologies around. We work with them in all sorts of ways to create new and compelling communications solutions for our client partners.

I don’t think you have to be an “edgy” brand to benefit from this sort of thinking either. The key is in understanding things like the media consumption habits of your intended audience or how technology could unlock new functionality in your brand. If the articles linked above and this note have got you thinking, give me a shout and let’s talk about how to find a content partner or host a hackathon.

Advertising Week Update

Advertising Week Panel on Sponsoring an Innovation Culture

It’s been a hectic couple of days for me at Advertising Week 2012. Here’s a rundown:

Monday, Oct. 1 NASDAQ Tech Futures 

I was the moderator for a panel called: The Imminent Power of 2nd Screen Consumer Engagement

The panel was packed with experts from a variety of fields, so we had a lively and diverse conversation:


  • Jordan Berkowitz, Executive Director, Creative Technology, Ogilvy & Mather
  • Sue Kaufman, Managing Director, GroupM
  • Brody O’Harran, Sr. Director, US XBOX Specialists Sales at Microsoft
  • Thomas Engdahl, CEO, President & Founder, Magic Ruby
  • Joe Inzerillo, Sr. VP, Multimedia & Distribution, Major League Baseball Advanced Media

Tuesday, Oct. 2 Sponsoring An Innovation Culture

As the marketing landscape evolves, creating an environment that inspires innovation is a key driver of business success. I was part of an eclectic panel of agency and market leaders who shared insights and experiences on how all businesses can stimulate and leverage innovation. The panel also featured:

  • David Shing, Digital Prophet, AOL
  • Brian Yamada, Executive Director of Channel Activation, VML
  • Yoni Bloch, Founder and CEO, Interlude

Advertising Week – Sponsoring an Innovative… by advertisingweek

Tuesday, Oct. 2 The Great Debate 3:00pm

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY squared off against the VCU BRANDCENTER in the inaugural “Great Debate.” Student teams competed before an All-Star jury of industry leaders to defend whether second screen is the “New Normal” or just a passing fad. The debaters explored ways to monetize second screens and how content owners, distributors, and advertisers should plan accordingly.

I was one of the judges for this, and it was great to see the students tackle the issue. You can view this one split over two videos, here and here.

Wednesday, Oct. 3 Live from the AWE Stage 11:00am

Guy Finley, Executive Director of the 2nd Screen Society, and I spoke about the emerging 2nd Screen ecosystem and what it means for brands, agencies and consumers.

AWE_Second_Screen_Society_100312 by advertisingweek


Also, I was quoted in a Digiday piece, Can Agencies Solve the Talent Problem?, and here’s my first piece for The Huffington Post about Advertising Week – 99 Products and I’ll Pitch Each One –  where I explore the connection between Hip Hop and Advertising.