Ogilvy’s Cynthia Lindberg on the Ad Agency’s Office Consolidation

Design and function are changing fast, including at Ogilvy’s 636 11th Avenue HQ: ‘There will be quiet zones, there will be more active areas.’


What a difference a generation makes.

Way back in the 1960s, advertising was the definition of conformity. The uptight Darrin Stevens, an advertising exec, of course, was the buttoned-up straight man to his witchy wife Samantha on the sitcom “Bewitched.” And that culture was mocked once again on the recent show “Mad Men,” as Don Draper and his merry all-male team seemed to own the zeitgeist and their clients paid top dollar to be plugged into it.

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Now, Madison Avenue is no more on Madison Avenue than Wall Street is on Wall Street. While the advertising and branding industry remains one of New York City’s anchors, you are as apt to find them in Hudson Square or on Ladies’ Mile as anywhere else.

And, rather than rule the zeitgeist, one of their biggest jobs is to figure it out. Part of their task is to know what social medium to be on this month. Is TikTok still where it’s at or have the cool kids moved on?

Cynthia Lindberg, executive director of design and construction in North America for the global advertising firm Ogilvy, is part of that world. Ogilvy has been the nomad of ad firms. Once, it heralded the opening of Eighth Avenue by its presence at Worldwide Plaza, leaving behind graffiti on the walls. It left that address and moved over to 636 11th Avenue, way west of the traditional Midtown business district.

Now it’s consolidated with other brands of London-based WPP — at Grey Group Inc.’s offices over at 200 Fifth Avenue, right on Madison Square Park and right near the epicenter of the city’s tech/creative soul.

Understanding the branding business is still a key to filling office space in the big city, and Lindberg picked up the phone earlier this month to offer a few clues as to how Ogivly does that. Her responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Commercial Observer: What exactly do you do?

Cynthia Lindberg: I would say that I am the luckiest person at Ogilvy. For the past 13 years, I have been responsible for the design and construction of all of our offices across North America, which means that I get to meet all the different leaders in every office, and create an Ogilvy work experience that matches our business strategy.

I started with Ogilvy back in 2008, when we took people out of private offices, and we went to an all-open plan. I’ve been with the company, and watched it evolve and grow and change to meet client needs.

I forgot to mention that I am an architect.

So, you were at the firm when it was still at Worldwide Plaza. I had the joy of walking through those offices after Ogilvy had left and saw the graffiti that their employees had left. It was very colorful and very artistic. It appeared that your management encourages your workers to express themselves creatively. How true is that and how does it impact your job?

Definitely, I would say we are the most creative agency globally. Our focus is to inspire brands. We talk about focusing on a workplace rather than a workspace and enabling creativity. That means collaborating effectively across different disciplines, and our culture is something that I also think really distinguishes Ogilvy from, perhaps, other agencies. That’s something that is always in the back of my mind as I am working on a design for people to use as meeting space, collaboration space.

Are Grey Group and Ogilvy merging?

We’re co-locating, but that’s part of a WPP standard model. I can’t say much more. I’m not the one who can speak to that.

As a larger matter, what does it mean to be part of the WPP portfolio, and how does it affect your need for real estate?

I will tell you that, in my opinion, COVID accelerated things that were already changing. I can only speak for Ogilvy. I can’t speak for other WPP workplaces, but I can tell you that for Ogilvy, we were already tracking about 60 percent capacity. We already had flex-work policies. We had teams that were working in clients’ offices, people who were out traveling; so, on any given day, we were tracking that, and that was long before COVID.

We are reducing our overall footprint, but it’s been more a response to the way we are changing our work style.

A lot of people know about the advertising business from watching “Mad Men,” and the way it was in the ‘60s. I’m old enough to remember how the advertising industry was a conduit to conformity. That has clearly changed radically. Talk to me, please, about how Ogilvy is similar to Sterling Cooper and what’s different?

I certainly did watch “Mad Men,” but it’s been quite a while, so it’s not fresh in my mind. I can tell you that something that really stands out and distinguishes Ogilvy is people here really like each other. They like coming into the office every day. They’re think-outside-the-box problem-solvers. We want to inspire brands. If anything, we’re more focused on that than ever before.

We really do like each other. We go on vacations together. We like seeing each other. We go out to lunch together. We have parties together. It is a very collaborative, very energetic, very creative environment, and I think that is what makes people really cling to the culture that we have. It makes us really strong.

One thing I did find cringeworthy when I did watch “Mad Men” was how sexist they were. With the contrast to today, we have a new North American CEO who is fabulous and who happens to be a woman; we have a global CFO who is a woman; we have a North American CFO who is a woman; a new leader in HR who’s a woman. Our leaders are more diverse than ever before. And it’s just a huge contrast to anything you might have seen on “Mad Men.” I’m really proud to be a part of that.

It seems that instead of setting the agenda, the advertising industry is instead trying to figure out what the public’s agenda is. Just trying to figure out what social media to be on can be a big deal.

Our mission is to inspire. And we want to create the kind of office that supports that on every single level. It’s not a public concern, but the true face of Ogilvy is to inspire brands and people. We look at how we can support that mission.

How has COVID affected your office use, and how do you expect it will continue to affect it going forward?

As I said earlier, at least in my mind, I think COVID just accelerated where we were already heading. We do like meeting and collaborating with each other. That’s how we do our best work. We’re all looking forward to coming back into the office, and my goal is to support that and create the most creative environment that I can.

Part of this new workplace will be the technology, and it will help make it more fluid and comfortable for everyone. So, if you’re working from home or if you’re in the office that day, you’re all a part of that.

We’re looking at all kinds of new and innovative ways of using the technology side to support our staff in the future.

Can you give me an example of something you will have in the future that maybe the public wouldn’t think of? Or someone with an outdated sense of what an advertising agency does?

I don’t know of anything incredibly different. Maybe what we are doing is a little better, a little smarter. In 2008, we went from private office to open plan, and now we’re approaching our new designs as more of a workplace than a workspace, so it’s more of how you want to work today. And there will be neighborhoods and client services teams, so you will know exactly where you can find your colleagues. It’s going to be much more fluid. There will be quiet zones, there will be more active areas. We’ve always had that, but now we will have more of that.

It will be less focused on individual work. A lot of head-down work might still be taking place at home, although we certainly will have quiet zones in the new office for anyone who loses focus. We’re focusing more and more on the collaboration aspect. So, when people do come to the office, at least in the beginning, it will be more about meeting with people and collaborating, and doing what we do best, which is being in the office together.

What amenities do you guys go for that aren’t really amenities anymore for Ogilvy? What is necessary that wasn’t seen as necessary a decade ago?

The main challenge for us is what I referenced earlier, how the technology is something we’re going to need for a more fluid workspace. Some people are working from home, some people are in the office, and you have a Zoom call with a client — how do we make that work for us? That’s a challenge that we didn’t have 10 years ago that we’re fully embracing now.

We’re lucky that the timing of this is perfect. There are several things that are available to us, from a technology standpoint.

Give me an example of that.

One of my favorite things is — please don’t put me in the business of plugging a product, but I will give you an example — there’s this new innovation called the dancing wall, and it’s literally a video screen — if you can imagine — on wheels, with a video screen on the other side of it, and you can move it around the office. So, we’ll have more open collaboration areas, and we’ll have these dancing walls. So, if you want to Zoom with a client, they can wheel over a wall with a video screen and you can share it with a client.

These only came on the market two or three years ago. So, we have this chance to rethink the way we’re going to be working, and the technology is coming into play and will support that. I think it’s really exciting.

It must be hard to keep up on all of that stuff. That could be a critical part of your job.

It is a very important part of my job, and I take great pride in continually looking out for such things. That’s one of the things I like about my job. No two days are ever the same. And I have the opportunity to continue to grow and learn, and change and evolve.