Long day? A Good Night's Rest Wins Out at Agencies

Business of Life: Surprisingly Admen Do Sleep, Even Before That Big Pitch

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Is the all-nighter-that machismo-fueled badge of agency-executive honor long seen as synonymous with pitching for the largest accounts-being put to sleep?

Newly formed DraftFCB just scored the biggest account win of the year-Wal-Mart's $570 million creative duties-by discouraging employees from working too many late hours, based on a common-sense hunch that groggy staffers produce shoddier work.

"It's hard to avoid the night before a big pitch, but [expecting people to stay up] is something agencies have abused, and it's something we've worked to reduce," said Nancy Leibig, a DraftFCB exec VP who worked on the Wal-Mart pitch. "Any new-business person who tells you they don't find major errors [in work done by people who stayed up all night] is lying."

Pitching Wal-Mart, Ms. Leibig said, involved the fewest late nights of any big pitch she'd worked on, "and it showed up in the room."

A $570 million account win isn't the only thing arguing for a reduction in sleepless nights. A Columbia University study in April said adults older than 32 who slept less than six hours a night were more likely to develop high blood pressure, hypertension, obesity, depression and stroke.

"We know that America is chronically sleep-deprived," said Darrel Drobnich, chief program officer at the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthful sleep habits. America has always had a strong work ethic, but "now that we've come into this 24/7 society, it's sort of an adrenaline shot to the heart."

He said higher-ordered thinking is the first thing to go when people are overtired, something that could be detrimental during late-night client pitches. "Creativity goes out the window with sleep deprivation."

Exhausted individuals might go also along with an idea "just so they can get the hell out of there," he said. Still, many agency executives say late nights remain an unavoidable aspect of their shops' cultures and, in an era in which marketers are creating more and more pitches by throwing more and more projects up for grabs, are increasingly hard to avoid.

Steve Slivka, VP-interactive innovation at Arc Worldwide, said he and his team "live in the office" during the week before a major pitch, occasionally even renting out rooms at the Renaissance Hotel next door. "You get by on caffeine, adrenaline and dedication, but you have to ... manage the fatigue," he said. On late nights, Mr. Slivka sometimes leads a fresh-air-seeking field trip outside his Chicago office in hopes of reviving his team (and himself), and he usually sends a few staffers home early "to have a fresh cavalry ready" in the morning.

Those who finish the graveyard shift routinely break out musical instruments, power screams and dance routines to stay awake.

Similar rituals dominate a few blocks east, at independent shop Cramer-Krasselt, where staffers fly around the office on scooters to keep their blood pumping in the late hours.

"It's sort of scootering meets 'Jackass,' " said Todd Crisman, VP-director of digital strategy at C-K. "If it's late, one of the best things to laugh at is the co-worker who takes a bone-crushing spill."

Ms. Leibig said she's not above similar antics, having pulled her share of 36-hour stints without sleep. The former high-school mascot even breaks out some cheerleader-style high kicks (in high heels) to psych up the troops from time to time.

But "not being exhausted leaves a better taste in your mouth for the presentation," she said.

Pick Your Sleep Profile

The National Sleep Foundation classifies sleepers into five groups:

27% Healthy, Lively Larks: Most consider themselves morning people

21% Sleep-Savvy Seniors: Almost always take naps

20% Dragging Duos: Early risers work 40+ hours

17% Overworked, Overweight, Overcaffeinated: Night owls with the longest workweek (47 hours)

15% Sleepless and Missin' the Kissin': Likely to blame sleep issue for relationship problems

Source: National Sleep Foundation Contributing: Patricia Riedman
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