Raising The Roof

A Magic 8-Ball shows in its future-predicting triangle: Boulder. “Join us in celebrating 10 years of doing whatever feels right,” reads the invitation for the grand opening party celebrating Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Colorado arrival the week of July 10. The invite refers to the agency’s time under its current leadership, and “whatever feels right” these days means making an unusual move—opening an office in Boulder, Colo.—to the puzzlement of the industry at large.

Plans for the agency’s trek West began last fall. After surviving a particularly brutal hurricane season in South Florida last summer that tore off part of CP+B’s roof and saw the shop evacuate its Coconut Grove offices for two weeks, the agency told its staff of 350 in December it planned to open an outpost in the Rockies. With the beaches and urbanity of Miami and the outdoorsy, small-town life of Boulder, explained the partners, CP+B would be able to offer its employees two great lifestyle options.

Exporting an agency culture to another location has historically proved difficult for shop brands, even for ones that attempt the expansion at their presumed height of success, such as CP+B. The move feels whimsical when rationalized as a quality-of-life decision, even for the maverick Miami agency. Will the Western investment help the agency grow and bolster its change-loving, risk-taking spirit, or will it stretch it too thin too soon?

Seven months after the announcement, on an early Monday evening in July, drinks are being served in a barn-shaped conference room situated on an angle off of what in a few days will be the agency’s lobby. The first 60 staffers who have made the move mingle with those from Miami who are in town to help with the undertaking; 15 more will make the move to Colorado in coming weeks. Also celebrating CP+B’s arrival are new neighbors and local citizens who helped the shop realize its cross-country move, the realtors and city officials who examined multiple office spaces and properties with the agency before they finally decided this 60,000-square-foot property would be their new Western home. “When we walked in and saw this place, we knew it was right,” says chief creative officer Alex Bogusky, who later explains that the realtor had showed them more traditional office spaces before better understanding the agency.

Located less than 10 miles from downtown Boulder, CP+B is housed in an unassuming beige complex on Gunpark Drive. Inside, light floods an archway of wooden beams that lead visitors into the cavernous space. “What do you think of our whim?” asks Bogusky, beaming as he gives a tour of the office, an amalgamation of metal and raw wood that gives the impression that the space is still very much a work in progress. “We wanted a fresh, blank palette,” explains Bogusky, who hired local Studio B2SJ to design the space.

The scent of fresh-cut wood lingers in the air. The floors are dusty. Screws and bolts are visible. Material that usually is covered, like particle board, remains unfinished on both office exteriors and inside, allowing staff to use them as working walls and personalize them. “It’s not going to look all that different when it’s done,” notes Bogusky, as he points out one of his many favorite things about the space, the two-by-fours that line the inside of rooms with a semi-circle groove cut into the wood to shelve pens and markers. It’s functional, cheap, and it’s made out of a simple two-by-four beam, he notes.

An area that will be an in-house production facility—”We want to get back to guerrilla filmmaking,” says Bogusky—is storing employee belongings until opening day. The move-in date was supposed to coincide with this evening’s cocktail party, but it is still four days away, and for now, CP+B is working out of temporary space at an events center. At the party, a sense of excitement and discovery permeates the air as staffers explore their new office and trade tales of their early experiences finding homes and new eateries, exploring hiking trails and adjusting to the altitude—5,430 feet above sea level. “I feel a little heady,” laughs one new arrival.

Feeling a little heady himself, executive creative director Andrew Keller is optimistic about the venture: “The dream is here to be created.” The experience of moving with so many colleagues to a city small enough to run into them while shopping at the Pearl St. Mall, taking a dip in the Boulder Creek or buying groceries at the local supermarket, draws comparisons to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and the anticipation felt on the first day at a new school. And with employees armed with enough technology to feel like they’ve achieved Star Trek status (in addition to five office cameras, employees have computer cameras to connect via iChat), it also feels a bit like The Truman Show, adds Keller.

Like in the Miami office, CP+B offers the use of a concierge who takes care of personal errands like dry cleaning while employees work. But to help employees take advantage of the outdoor lifestyle Boulder affords, the outpost will also employ an “extreme concierge,” says Bogusky, who has moved his family and is now based in Boulder. This staff person will keep the outdoorsy types active, giving bike tune-ups, waxing skis and making arrangements for whatever activity they may want. “You can get your dry cleaning done here, but only if it’s extreme related,” jokes Bogusky, who now rides his bike to work.

As he walks through the space, talk turns to the idea of a virtual agency and Jay Chiat’s attempt at realizing the concept in the early ’90s. During last year’s hurricane season, when the staff literally couldn’t come into the office, the agency realized just how virtual it already was. Despite the scattered staff, more work was produced during that time than any other equivalent period in the agency’s history, Bogusky says. And when the agency studied the staff’s travel patterns, it learned that 30 to 40 percent of the staff was out of the office at any given time. So, moving to Boulder and staying connected to Miami, and wherever else the agency would need to conduct business, didn’t seem such an unattainable goal. “People need a space, they need a home,” says Bogusky, but pointing up to the blue chords streaming through the space high above in the wire rafters that make up CP+B Boulder’s communication highway, he stresses, “this is who we are.”

Off to the side of the lobby, parked outside a corner office, a double-screen monitor projects the party under way. With a camera mounted on top, the unit serves to keep the agency’s two offices connected 24/7 via a private high-speed 55 megabits-per-second fractional OC3 link that can scale up to 155 megabits-per-second (the equivalent of 100 T1s) as the traffic grows. The agency will project the onscreen images life size onto one lobby wall, where staffers can meet their Miami counterparts. Two other walls will hold collapsible bleachers. “We built a town square,” says chairman Chuck Porter, animatedly describing how the technology will easily provide two-way communication between the locales and allow for the random hallway run-ins that help people feel connected and often turn into productive conversations. “I want this to feel like the second or third floor of the same building,” says Porter, who is soon buying a house in Boulder and will split his time between the two offices.

The agency began looking for space outside of Miami last winter and at the time was considering much smaller real estate. Other cities were considered, such as Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, N.M. Creative director Bill Wright remembers the day Bogusky called to ask if he had an atlas. He was mapping out possibilities and calculating such things as the distance to an airport.

However, some of those other cities already have creatively recognized agencies dominating the locale, and others weren’t different enough from Miami. A few staffers had already grown familiar with Boulder, while working with clients such as Schwinn, Telluride Ski and Golf Co. and Planet Outdoors. And with its lower cost of living, expansive mountain-peaked views and easy travel options to Los Angeles and Miami, Boulder became the first choice.

In the clusters of party-goers, the first-look assessment is overwhelmingly positive. The new office, while more rustic than Miami, retains the factory feel of the Florida space.

“I really expected it to be a shit box,” cracks Keller, who is staying at a Residence Inn while his house is being built. “It’s fantastic. I feel at home here. It has a Boulder feel to it, but I feel very connected to the Miami office.”

Interactive creative director Jeff Benjamin, who recently moved into his new Boulder home, admits the notion of conducting business while so many people were simultaneously relocating was unnerving. “At first it was scary and anxiety-producing,” he says. “Two things helped: this is the way we’ve worked for years, and to do it like this is right.”

The next day, at the temporary work space, about 60 staffers are lined up at rows of cafeteria-style tables, open laptops in front of them. Most have headphones on and, even though there are a lot of conversations taking place in cyberspace, the room is quiet. Even in Miami, notes Bogusky, most communication happens through e-mail and instant messaging.

But when it comes time for Keller to meet with the agency’s Volkswagen team back in Miami, technology is not favoring the Atlanta native. The center’s firewall may be prohibiting a visual connection through iChat, so he settles for a time-tested conference call in a neighboring unoccupied room. A woman on the other end of the line says the group is compensating with a picture of him. Keller, who wears a faded CP+B shirt that reads “Nothing refreshes like a complete nervous breakdown,” responds that his curly blond hair is bigger because he hasn’t had time for a cut.

Then it’s on to business, as Keller is briefed on meeting schedules, the status of upcoming initiatives and ideas in various stages of completion. He tells the team that, although a recent spot generated interest, more needs to be done to “feel the news and excitement” at the dealerships. Discussing a print campaign, Keller suggests, “We should pull media-specific magazines and get those into the hands of creative so we can look for nontraditional opportunities.” Color samples for something else are requested, but Keller reminds that they need to be numbered in order for him to reference them properly during a future remote meeting. He steers the conversation with firm, polite instruction. “We’re not comping up what we’ve got,” he stresses. “We’re still growing and expanding the idea.” After several more issues are discussed, Keller wraps up the meeting. “And next week, you better be on iSight,” he cracks. “Have a great day.”

In the afternoon, Benjamin takes the four-hour flight back to Miami to collaborate with his interactive team on a Burger King video game. It’s easier to work with the software used to develop the game on the ground in Miami, he explains.

Back at the office space under construction, Porter is moving furniture around, and Jordan Kilpatrick, vp of information systems, is trying out the lobby video connection. “So far it looks like it’s going to work,” says Eric Lear, the agency’s chief operating officer. “We’re one agency in different places.” The videoconferencing is functioning as Miami staffers trade quips with Kilpatrick and Bogusky, who joins them in the interstate conversation. On the left monitor is the perspective from Miami, on the right, from Boulder. The newness of the experience lends itself to some goofiness in front of the camera. “You can’t touch me,” chuckles Bogusky. “I’m on the other screen.”

The idea to build in Boulder began with Bogusky. “He’s like a little kid at Christmas,” says Porter the evening after the party at the Julien Hotel, Boulder’s smoke-free and lone modern swanky hotel.

Bogusky later admits introducing the agency to its new home is a bit like “unwrapping a present with them.” He adds, “It’s really energizing for me, partly because it’s scary. There’s a lot of stuff to not mess up.”

The euphoria will level off in time, says Porter, “[but] I haven’t heard anyone say we’ve made a mistake. There’s a lot of juice here. A lot of vision.”

Many agencies, however, have foundered in their efforts to export their cultures to new cities. Most recently, Minneapolis-based Fallon shut down its New York operations, and BBH had struggled for years to make its New York agency a powerhouse like its London headquarters. Even CP+B stumbled with its 2001 attempt to expand to Los Angeles. Launched as a full-service West Coast branch, the agency was scaled back in three years time, with CP+B moving accounts to Miami, leaving only some media buying functions in Venice. While the office won business and produced recognized creative, the expansion approach wasn’t right for the agency, says Porter. “It’s not like L.A. wasn’t successful, but philosophically we had come to this place, you don’t try to duplicate yourself,” adds Bogusky. “We had the factory humming [in Miami]. We knew what we could do and what we could do really well.”

The principals say the lessons they learned in L.A. will be applied to Boulder. Unlike L.A., Boulder will not pursue its own client base, but will simply serve as another place for the agency to live and work. “I think it’s all going to work,” predicts Porter, who expects that eventually both offices will have equal staff numbers.

While Bogusky and about half of CP+B’s 80 creatives are making the move, many have elected to stay in Miami, such as Paul Keister, Rob Reilly and Rob Strasberg. While Porter notes that many staffers serendipitously congregate at the Viceroy in L.A., he admits it’ll be delicate balancing Boulder and Miami. The most important thing as the agency grows, he says, is that people “feel as much connected with the work as they always have.”

In effect, the opening of the Boulder office is a way to invigorate the agency and keep it evolving. “Alex and I often talked about, ‘What are we going to do to keep people excited?'” says Porter.

While building from scratch in Boulder would seem to be cost-prohibitive compared to adding to Miami, as they assessed the cheaper real estate and materials, “money very soon became a non-issue,” says Porter, adding it cost less than the 22,000-square-foot Miami space they considered.

Boulder may have originated as a “whim,” but the thought of relocating had been rattling around Bogusky’s head for years. “I grew up [in Miami], been there my whole life,” he says. “I want something a little different for my kids.” His son Zeke is 10, a couple of years younger than when he remembers bonding with his father; and his daughter Nadia is 6. He worried his options were limited. “It was kind of depressing. I felt like I have the greatest job in the world, [but] am I going to give it up and move to Montana?” he says. “I know there aren’t good advertising jobs in Montana.”

Instead, Bogusky decided to create his own reality. “It’s fun to do things that haven’t been done,” he says. CP+B wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the Mac and desktop publishing, he adds, which make working anywhere possible. “CP+B Shanghai could be next,” he says. “But I’m more likely to create a 24-hour operation that works in shifts.”

After the staff moved into the new space, Keller attempted another remote connection with Miami for a meeting with VW’s Kerri Martin—this time, it was successful. A few days later BK’s Russ Klein and Brian Geis address both offices from the agency’s Miami lobby. “We were already pretty connected, now that we’re able to layer some of this technology on top of it, it’s obvious what the future holds,” says Keller. “It’s fun pushing the boundaries of how a business works and do what we do.”