The foosball game hasn't arrived, but the pinball, video golf and table hockey games are in place. The cubicles, walled in by Japanese-style shoji screens, are occupied - lit by futuristic, Oriental-flavored lighting fixtures.
But as Bruce Rooke surveys the 10th floor of J. Walter Thompson's offices in downtown Detroit, he's not satisfied.
'Of the things I wish for,' he says, 'it's still not a noisy place.'
J. Walter is the longtime agency for Ford Division, and Rooke is the agency's executive vice president and executive creative director. Rooke says redesigning the physical environment at the agency was necessary to help the client develop new messages. Agency employees were accustomed to their traditional offices 'with a door that closes,' he says. 'I know it was a culture shock for most people.'
Although the most visible change is the open office environment, the agency also has reorganized its Ford account team into specialized units called 'hot shops.' Perhaps as a way to juice themselves up, hot-shop employees have chosen names that sound like something from a video game or sci-fi film. The supervisory/ brainstorming group is called 'Mind Racers,' the broadcast creative team is 'Liquid 35,' print creatives go by 'Red Hammer' and the digital group is 'Sparkjar.'
The teams' missions are to sharpen focus; that is, find the best ways to handle a client's ads.The new structure extends beyond creative staff, including account managers, research, special events and client services - basically everyone who works on the Ford account.
Even before it created hot shops, J. Walter has been trying to break the mold with ideas such as the live Ford Focus ads. Though Rooke says its biggest client didn't prompt the change, JWT is clearly trying to reinvent itself.
'This floor is a work environment, but it is also a symbol to send the message that we have to change,' Rooke says.
New office, new ideas?
Can office design improve creative ideas? One crosstown rival says it is pleased with a similar office plan.
At D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, whose clients include Cadillac and Pontiac, Pat McCarthy says he doesn't miss the 400-square-foot office he had before the agency's 1997 move.
'I had to get up and get out of it to learn anything,' says McCarthy, D'Arcy's senior vice president and communications director, who now has a 'double-wide' 9-by-12-foot cubicle. 'Privacy can also be isolating.'
D'Arcy's new environment features 15-foot ceilings, materials such as particleboard and brushed steel and low-walled cubicles. The floorplan fosters conversation, he says.
'I think the biggest difference here is in informal communication,' McCarthy says. 'You learn much more, informally, than you ever learned before.'