At the Venice, Calif. offices of Chiat/Day, 40 employees test computer programs, telecommunications and team configurations. Psychologists study reactions and employee behavior. Agency president Bob Kuperman writes a weekly ‘Dear Kupe’ column to answer nervous staffers’ questions about what the changes really mean. The agency that’s pioneered so many of the trends that helped put advertising on the corporate map is about to begin what may be the most critical experiment of all – an agency of the future model that could forever change the way ad agencies operate. ‘As a test case, the ad industry is going to be watching Chiat/Day in great detail,’ said Tim Bajarin, president of high-tech consultancy Creative Strategies in Santa Clara, Calif. ‘It could be setting an important precedent.’
When it’s done (the agency is shooting for the first of the year), Chiat staffers will have access to a computerized bank of intelligence senior vp/director of administration and business development Laurie Koots likens to Internet. There will be kiosks around the agency from which staffers can access libraries of data, even call up past ads developed for any account. Three concierges will help employees settle into a space appropriate to their needs at the moment – meeting rooms set up for projects that last three weeks or six months; activity centers like art studios and post-production facilities which house state-of-the-art equipment; and study carrels where staffers can get on a computer or return phone calls.
It’s a thorough organizational and technological overhaul that the agency hopes will provide a different range of information and services to clients. ‘If we set ourselves up only to be an ad agency, that’s not enough,’ Kuperman said. The competitive environment now hinges on such issues as the speed with which products and innovations can be brought to market; how effectively companies can communicate not only what the product does, but what the company stands for – in the community as well as the marketplace. Firms can be expected to develop alliances to allow them to go in and out of businesses faster than executives can change ties. The objective becomes keeping nimble. ‘If I find a benefit for my product the window that that benefit will exist as solely mine is small,’ Kuperman said. ‘My ability to constantly be ready to move and change is going to determine how many windows will be available to me.’
The Venice offices will undergo a thorough remodeling, but ‘it’s not an exercise in architectural experimentation,’ said Kuperman. ‘Our basic product is insight. To have insight you have to have this kind of intelligence; it gives you the ability to formulate insight.’
Before, account assistants would have to research not only the data but the relative importance of the data. This computer software will build those evaluations in. Creatives can spend more time creating; managers can spend more time managing.
Kuperman declined to discuss the cost of Chiat/Day’s endeavor. He said sustaining the agency of the future will require more service and support staff. But those familiar with the concept of ‘the virtual corporation,’ as these models have been tagged, explain that a large part of the rationale behind them is the ability to gather and disband different staffs at different times. ‘In the true concept of the virtual corporation you’re talking about multiple people lending talent to a new type of project. When they’re done, they take off or they move on,’ said Bajarin. ‘It’s unclear to me how at least in an advertising area, that’s going to work its way out.’
Naysayers also question whether so high-tech an environment can sustain the creative energy that’s needed in advertising. And Koots said she’s well aware of the potential downside. ‘The technical part is really easy,’ Koots said. ‘The hard part is how do you make sure employees feel they’re still a part of something really important. We’re spending a lot of time on the cultural implications. We’re talking to behavioral psychologists and people who are studying that.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)
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