Which came first, the cool new offices or the creativity of the staff?
I was looking at the video "Art and Copy" for the eleventh time the other day, and the first things my students comment on are the workspaces at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles and Weiden and Kennedy in Portland.
At Weiden, the Nike agency, they have built a "nest" for meetings. They also have a real totem pole and the employees have designed a wall with 100,000 clear push-pins that spell out "Fail Hard". Chiat/Day, the ad agency for Apple, is open and airy, and even has a place to practice your jump shots.
They're both very impressive and, of course, those two agencies consistently do some of the best work in the ad business. What's the connection? I'm not certain there is any.
In the '60s, the so-called "Golden Age of Advertising", the agency that changed everything was Doyle Dane Bernbach. They're the agency that gave birth to the campaigns for Volkswagen, Avis, Cracker Jack, and Alka Seltzer. They also developed many of the top creative people in advertising. (They were the agency that Mad Men are worried about.)
Doyle Dane was located in New York at 20 West 43rd Street, across from the Public Library, a very modest older building. So modest that the security system consisted of guard dogs that would be let loose on each floor at 6 p.m. The creative people couldn't work late at the office even if they wanted to. (Not that they would have. That wasn't the Doyle Dane culture.)
Maybe I can conclude that the setting does have an effect on creative people. But it doesn't always have to be a fantastically beautiful setting. Maybe getting out before the guard dogs and going home for a good night's sleep had something to do with it.
Doyle Dane Bernbach did eventually move to Madison Avenue in a gleaming new building. I can't say that their work improved, though. It never reached the heights it did at 20 West 43rd.
Other things are more important than a fresh office. Such as a fresh mind. And good clients and colleagues. Maybe today I'll go to the simple public library and redecorate my brain.