Welcome back: VIA Agency’s CCO chronicles his first day back at the office
Portland, Maine-based The VIA Agency is slowly starting to welcome employees back into the office on a voluntary basis. With two kids at home under the age of four, Chief Creative Officer Bobby Hershfield was eager to volunteer. Hershfield moved from New York City to Maine on March 16, just as the Big Apple went into lockdown. He returned to the office on Oct. 5 and has been going in three to four times per week. Here’s a look at his first day back.
The day starts with my two-year old screaming “mommy” from his crib. As I walk toward him with arms outstretched to hug and pick him up, the screams change from “mommy” to “Not you, daddy.”
I negotiate clothing and breakfast, try to listen to WFAN on Alexa and fill out our new, bespoke “Back to Office” app. I enter my temperature, fill out a few questions and await approval to come in. So while my scrambled eggs are getting rejected by my kids, I get a notice that I’m approved to come into work.
I spent close to 25 years taking a subway into work, so the ability to drive is such a thrill. I have Sirius XM Radio so I can toggle between 25 stations, Pearl Jam Radio, E Street Radio, Classic Vinyl, Beatles, which I do so by the time I arrive at work; I’ve yet to hear one complete song start to finish.
I arrive into our office, which is the old public library called the Baxter Building. We’ve laid out directional arrows to account for traffic flow, automated our bathrooms and moved desks around so people can sit a healthy distance from one another. The office has been completely cleaned and sterilized, and I grab my back-to-office safety kit which includes a VIA branded mask, hand sanitizer, desk cleaner, a Careful Key, which is a germ-fighting device to help punch keypads and open doors, (designed by entrepreneurs from Maine), and a new key card. My office is freezing since we turned off heat and electricity during the pandemic. I want to complain, but I’m the only one here. And in the scheme of things going on right now, maybe my office temp isn’t top of the list.
I have a Zoom call to review two creative briefs. On the call, our head of strategy asks why I’m wearing three jackets and a ski mask.
Immediately after the call I get to work on the awards. They’ve been sitting in the corner unpolished, full of dust and dirt and I just can’t have it. So I polish and clean them, making sure they are spotless. I realize we are not expecting clients or outsiders, but we have a zero-tolerance dirty award policy. And, as my old creative director used to say, “Clean awards lead to great work.” Or was it, “Bobby, clean the awards and start doing great work.” I don’t remember.
We have a Zoom status meeting. A couple of us are now in the office, but participating from our own designated spaces. We require masks when leaving a personal space to walk around, and we’ve also designated limits of people on stairs and in conference rooms. In offices, we sit apart and wear masks. While I can’t see mouths, I’m convinced my asides and jokes are totally landing. During this particular Zoom call where we review the status of all the projects going on this week, I distinctly notice a project manager raising her eyebrow when I say, “let’s push the airdate,” and I’ve come to learn in COVID, the raised eyebrow means hysterical laughter. I’m doing this meeting from my office, so naturally I’m paying close attention to my Instagram feed.
David Burfeind, who runs our client strategy and planner departments, comes into my office to discuss a pitch and the work connected to it. He’s standing at my doorway wearing a mask, I’m at my desk and I put on mine just so he feels comfortable. I also straighten my hair since he’s bald and gets uncomfortable with people who take their hair for granted. It’s a 10-minute discussion and I find that meetings are much more to the point since people want to get back to their desks and naturally want to separate from others. But before he walks away, he’s quick to point out that the awards are not “really all that clean, especially the Effies,” so I decide to give them another once over.
I head to lunch and people all over Portland are wearing masks. Restaurants won’t allow entry if you’re not wearing one. The city is still quiet and some places are closed, but Taco Bell is open and I'm not sure if you’ve had the Taco Bell in Maine but it’s pretty terrific. You can add lobster to any Gordita. Not really, but they should since they put lobster on everything here.
Leeann Leahy, our CEO, comes in and comments how nice the awards look. She also wants to talk about a pitch rehearsal and has suggestions on an upcoming campaign, but honestly once she complimented the awards, I didn’t listen all that much.
We are very busy with six productions going on. We are discussing director searches and timing plus trying to finalize scripts. Five of us have socially distanced around our big wall where we put up work and presentations. With people presenting in an age of COVID, it’s very hard to rip work off the wall and throw it on the ground calling it cliché or claiming it’s been done before for fear of getting too close. So, I have to wait until the writer of the work backs away a few feet and then I can approach the wall and do my business. The spontaneity of insults is just gone and now we schedule them within the time of the work session.
Stephen Davis (copywriter) steps six feet back while I grab his script and throw it in his face claiming it’s been done before. Unbeknownst to me, he goes back an extra two feet so the crumbled paper doesn’t reach him and just falls on the floor making it seem like I can’t throw.
Internal review of new agency website and social media toolbox. A lot of hard work has gone into refreshing our brand identity and there are a few options to review that can help modernize the agency and usher in a more contemporary look for VIA.
I call various creatives to do a temperature check on how things are going. We are busy during these stressful and uncertain times, so it’s important to just check in occasionally.
I use this time to answer emails and meet various freelancers and candidates to see who’s open to a position here. I’m always interested in meeting people and figuring out how to bring new talents and perspectives into the agency. During this time, I’ll also review the remaining pieces to a client’s holiday campaign. I admit all can easily be done at home, but better here because I can listen to Boz Scaggs on Spotify and no one in my family appreciates Boz Scaggs the way I do.
I head home committed to listening to one station for a full song, but get distracted and switch around. But I’m comforted that tomorrow is a new day and I will try again. And better yet, I won’t have any awards to clean.