A recipe for better PR offices
It shouldn’t really matter that much, should it?
Yet you hear it said time and time again in PR. “Ooh yes, seems like a really good agency, and they’ve got fantastic offices.”
For once, I am not picking at the grammatical error. I am getting at the fact that despite many years of technological and cultural progress in remote working practices and distributed teams, offices still say a lot about agencies. They’re one of the main things clients, staff, media and prospects remember about an agency.
The office forms a big impression, whether we like it or not. It’s part and parcel of public relations.
And it’s front of mind for me at the moment as Zeno goes through an office search process. Over the past few weeks, I’ve popped my hear around the door of many a prospective new base in central London, wondered about prospective layouts and what to do with odd bits of space, and reflected on the pros and cons of each location.
I’ve worked in a fair few PR agency offices over the years, been responsible for picking six different premises and have learned, hopefully, from my mistakes as well as from a few inspired decisions. Who reading this will forget those sludge green and Ford Cortina orange leatherette bench seats that smacked only of bus station chic? The ‘value desks’ at Argyll Street? Or the strange little meeting room at the Goodge Street place where we could watch the late Malcolm Maclaren outlandishly relieving himself?
Like it or not, the office speaks volumes about what the agency is all about. It can inspire the people who work there, the people who visit and the people who wished they did. It can fall well short, and so just be sort-of-average. Or it can be a mundane, wasted opportunity.
As it’s on my radar at the moment, here’s a list of 10 things I think every PR agency office should be looking to attain, both for the morale of its staff and the commercial rub-offs for the business. And above, all, to make it a place where ideas are made:
- It needs a centrepiece: typically the reception area, but there are other ways of doing it. Something that provides a focal point to form a cohesive impression of the place and that people congregate around. It need not be the first thing you see when you walk in, but it does need thinking about carefully
- The reception should be somewhere that makes guests smile: it all-too-easy to puff the chest out and just use the reception area for showing off good work. That needs to happen, but reception also needs to be a place to be welcomed, inspired and, to an extent, entertained
- Support different workstyles: have some informally-defined areas too, as well as set banks of desks. It may seem like dead money rent-wise, but the benefits to creative output and human interaction outweigh it – if cost is an issue, put some hotdesks in so some people can share, to give headroom for these informal communal areas
- A kitchen for conversation: I’ve worked in one place with a kitchen so small that it struggled to support more than one person at a time. They need not be big, but they do need to support people gathering in the morning, at lunchtime and indeed at any time of the day.
- Nurture the right noise: a PR office needs ‘buzz’, particularly when people make less use of the phone. You need to plan ways of encouraging that, and ways of supressing it so there are quiet zones
- Bring in your own stuff: not the endless cutesy pictures and fluffy creatures per se, but in a people-based business people need to be able to make some small mark upon their environment. Tastefully, we hope. Similarly, surround people with media: not just the ubiquitous TV news, but all types of media we work with today. This doesn’t need to be in-your-face, but it should be visible – everyone needs reminding of what we do and why we do it
- Watch people’s behaviour first: some good advice I had on buying a house was live in it for a year and then decide what to do with the garden. Likewise, do the major decorative work when you move into a PR office but leave room for further personalisation when you see how people are using the space
- Make it a place that speaks for your brand: without getting too Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, this is where the quirky stuff can come in. Just make sure it reflects what you’re all about – and provides a talking point for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones
- Natural light: yes it may be in restricted supply in London offices in particular, but it makes a big difference not just to individual workspaces but to the way the office feels overall
- Wardrobes: modern business etiquette may mean teams going through changes more often than Superman in a working day. I recently cycled in from home in one outfit, changed for the office, changed for a meeting, changed for another meeting, then back to the cycling kit (for the tripe home, not just for fun). Storage for all that clobber is useful. And saves innocent people from the onset of lycra