Want to Move Your Agency Forward? Try Moving

Adventure in Real Estate Leads to Reflection on Our Business Practices

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Michelle Edelman
Michelle Edelman
At our small agency, we want to be bigger. We're restless characters. We like to solve different problems. Our metabolism is just built that way. Growing ourselves is a big part of what we think about during the 16 hours we aren't at the office (OK, maybe more like 12).

So surprisingly enough, one of our greatest growth spurts as an agency came when we decided to move our headquarters location. When I read that last sentence, it sounds like there was some sort of grand plan. Far from it. We looked at our lease renewal price, looked at each other, and said, "Well, I guess we better go then!" It's what happened after that ball started rolling that grew the agency.

We hired the wrong people to represent us. When you hire a broker, you become someone's client. How great is that? We found out that we are pretty good clients -- responsive, good payers, give clear feedback.

We almost immediately lost the attention of the senior broker who had sold us -- not unlike what clients feel when they are "bait-and-switched" with the junior team after the pitch is won. Then we chose the building with the smallest commission potential, and oh how they tried to unsell us -- like agencies sometimes do when pursuing their own agenda. It's a great lesson and reminder in our own service-oriented business to keep our heads straight about priorities and to understand we are a conduit to someone else's business. In an industry that can display great arrogance of creation, we are in service to the brand of others and humility is mandatory.

Signing a lease was also a journey. A commitment to multiple years and pages of contract terms in an industry foreign to us -- much less managing the build-out that would come after we moved -- kept us occupied and reflective on our business.

And we are a business. Not just a place that makes great ideas, but a place that makes money. Sometimes when we're negotiating with our prospects, and we offer them what we feel is a great deal, we wonder why they don't jump at it? I see now that they go through the same process we did with our lease - and it's anxiety producing. Contracts force them to think about intellectual property ownership, unions and competitive threats, in addition to all those great terms we're offering. Believe me, we poured over the paragraphs concerning hazardous materials and acts of God as if they could both happen tomorrow. At the end of it, we understand the business better. We're better operationally for it.

But what really evolved our agency was building out a new space and moving. I feel everyone within our walls went through some sort of personal transformation. The office move sent them into a time of reflection about what's important about the agency and their jobs. And however brief, I see they all transformed. Our new office design forced this. We eliminated all offices. None at all. We eliminated department seating. Everyone is mixed together. We did this to codify how people were already working, as we noticed more and more that we were kicking staff out of conference rooms where they were frequently gathering for communal work. So now our whole space is built that way.

We pride ourselves in being brand and media experts, and yet when confronted with questions about our own brand and the building as a medium, it was all new again. Our fantastic designer grounded us in ourselves. The integrity and humility of our place re-emerged in brick and mortar. We still have a grove out back where we plant trees that symbolize our clients' growth. But we don't have famous quotations and record albums adorning the walls anymore. We went instead with of 10' x 50' chalk, cork and white board walls that compel our employees to share their ideas -- on new business pitches and on the new neighborhood eateries. We made it our place and their place with 25% familiarity of the old and 75% promise of the new.

We hung huge pieces of fabric as doors and now we project still and moving images onto them. The consumer media environment is constantly moving and changing, and this is a constant reminder that nothing in our world is static anymore -- even doors and walls.

Through the leaving behind came new ways to move forward. A web developer seated next to an art director just changed a print ad to a mobile app. I just watched it happen, as did a writer from another account who told his account guy. Is it progress, or does it just feel that way? We don't know yet. Either way, I'm good. We've re-birthed through the moving boxes and by relearning what makes us great. The rest is up to us.

Michelle Edelman is president of NYCA, Solana Beach, Calif.
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