Inside the Agency: Ogilvy London’s Thames River views

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There’s one feature of Ogilvy & Mather’s new London office that’s pretty hard to ignore: the view.

Overlooking the River Thames on the Southbank, the floor-to-ceiling windows reveal a procession of river taxis, barges and occasionally tourists in bright orange kayaks.

“We’ve all turned into river bores,” said Charlie Rudd, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. Many employees know the river’s daily milieu like their own routine, he added.

O&M’s U.K. group moved three of its 10 agencies — Ogilvy & Mather London, Ogilvy Labs and #OgilvyChange — into the building in January, with the remainder joining in the following months.

Its new home, known as Sea Containers House, was designed by U.S. architect Warren Platner as a nautical-inspired hotel (it looks a bit like a cruise liner from the outside). However, it opened in 1978 as an office for the now-defunct shipping company Sea Containers, hence the name.

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One of the breakout seating areas inside Ogilvy UK.

Today, following a three-year renovation, three of its 12 floors are now taken up by the Mondrian London hotel. The remainder is office space split between O&M Group, fellow WPP agency MEC and Global Team Blue, Ford’s full service agency.

O&M UK had previously been in Canary Wharf, London’s financial district, since 1992. There, way out east, the agency had a harder task staying relevant than its rivals in Soho.

“We didn’t even have all the people in that building,” said Rudd. “There’s no doubt it felt more isolated from the ad industry, partially because of where it was.”

In fact, many clients didn’t visit that office, choosing to meet staff at Ogilvy West, its smaller hub in Paddington. “That’s very different now; clients love being here,” Rudd added.

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The view from the roof terrace, including the iconic London Eye and the Oxo Tower.

The building is nestled in the “cultural mile” that runs along the Thames. It’s surrounded by institutions like the Tate Modern, the BFI and the National Theatre. The creative buzz seems to be working. Many clients now drop in to work from its roof terrace and in-house eateries, including the Cucumber bar and bistro.

Staff are shaking up old habits too. Unlike the traditional floor plan of its Canary Wharf office, Sea Containers House has an open-plan layout that allows different parts of the business to overlap in communal areas.

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The split-level concrete spaces blur boundaries between the 10 agencies.

The idea is to get O&M’s 1,600 staff collaborating, including its seven behavioral scientists on staff. “You’ll get PR specialists coming into creative reviews who can give an entirely new perspective. There’s potential magic there,” Rudd said.

“It’s completely designed around what Ogilvy want to be about going forwards. Our specialisms are now physically interconnected. The time was spent on making it interesting,” he added.

This kind of thinking has inspired collaborative projects like the building’s internal chatbot, the Roombot. Staff can use it to do anything from booking a conference room to seeing the day’s menu in the cafe. It’s used around 300 times a day, according to Ogilvy.

Having all its staff in one place for the first time also means extracurricular activities have room to grow. There’s already Ogilvy FC, an Ogilvy choir and a running club. Meanwhile, the newly-formed Ogilvy “Sideboard” has been busy organising group-wide events like rooftop picnics and a charity afternoon tea.

And the Thames is a constant presence in all of this; on Instagram, in meetings and as a source of creative inspiration. For staff like Rudd, it’s still a treat too. “Eight months in, with this view and this light, I still don’t take it for granted,” he said.

Ogilvy
Inside the penthouse restaurant, the Cucumber bar and bistro.
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