‘David Ogilvy never wrote in the office, he went home’

david ogilvyAgency chiefs bemoaning the return of “working from home” have been given a crumb of comfort with the revelation that David Ogilvy – seen by many as the King of Copywriters and the Father of Advertising – never wrote a jot at the office, he used to go home and pen his ads.

With the Government’s advice reverting to the message that people should work from home if they can, many adland bosses have been left wondering whether they will ever see a mass return to those expensive offices they have to run; others are concerned that it will stifle creativity.

However, according to Rory Sutherland, renowned industry sage and vice chairman at Ogilvy UK, “David Ogilvy never wrote anything in the office. If he needed to write, he went home as there are too many distractions in an open plan setting”.

In an interview with LBBOnline about the future of the office, Sutherland added: “Bear in mind that the reason people will be coming into the office will be for two extremes: either their home is noisy and they want peace or their home is lonely and they want companionship.

“We should look at reducing the amount of office space we have and split it between places which offer solitude, and places for both planned and unplanned encounters. When you’re at university, some people work in their room, some go to the library, some head to coffee shops, bars or other social areas. It all depends on the type of work you are doing and where best you are productive.

“A university holds a mix of spaces that serve different functions well. What we’ve got with an office is essentially one space.”

For Sutherland, it is a fine balance. He added: “In terms of an open plan office, it’s actually quite a cold form of communication because it tends to formalise behaviours.

“Online, however, you have many of the advantages of face-to-face but for some of your team who are introverted it can be even better because it is less tiring – you can turn your screen off if you’re exhausted, you can go on mute and go to the loo, it works surprisingly well.

“Humans are massively visual so we can do a pretty good job of imagining that we are physically in the meeting. The fact that the majority felt more productive in these conditions is an extraordinary revelation.”

He said that for people who are introverts, the modern office where people are essentially visible in a semi-social setting all the time is probably cognitively not very optimal. It’s much more likely that extroverts end up setting the pace.

Sutherland added: “It’s much easier to say, ‘Let’s all go to the pub!’ than it is to say, ‘Let’s all go home and watch television in our underpants…’ So I would argue that modern office life is heavily calibrated towards extrovert tastes.”

However, another consequence of the WFH movement is that “serendipitous meetings” have disappeared, because people have not been able to attend business conferences and events.

He explained: “Without accidental meetings the industry will become less imaginative and less well-informed overtime. There are some replacements to that such as webinars and online conferences. I’ve often felt that the people who attend conferences and things like Cannes Lions aren’t the people that really need to be there. It tends to be senior people who have been several times before. The people who really need to go are the up and coming people who have the most to gain.

“We need to try and find alternatives to the way in which people meet randomly at face-to-face events. I encourage my team to go on more podcasts, give talks online and make more noise because then, you may not find out about other people, but at least they will find out about you. Fame massively increases the likelihood that you will end up connecting with interesting and valuable people.”

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