At Chiat/Day, will this be the agency of the future? — Overhaul in the Works Portends Radical Departure In the Way the Agency Will Do Business

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, aware that the staff is sensing a radical change in their work environment, pens a weekly “Dear Kupe” column to answer nervous staffers’ questions.
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 its 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’s staff will have access to a computerized bank of intelligence that 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 that 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.”
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.”
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 endeavors 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 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.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)