The issue of whether or not the building and area are fundamental in what you produce probably depends on the Agency type (Adland Agency or graphic boutique). Ultimately though your mum was right all along:
I work as an Art Director within the studio of a 50-100 employee integrated agency. It’s an old converted manure-processing plant, and before that a flour mill from the industrial revolution. It never fails to impress clients and new starters, and the creative team sits on the top floor, a vaulted area in the attic overlooking the station and miles around. It’s stunning, but this is not what makes us great: It’s the like-minded staff, single-minded leadership and the ethos that exists within.
Some of the best agencies in London work in very traditional office buildings. Okay – so they’re decorated with white walls, fascinating objet d’art and vintage furniture – but the buildings themselves are not inherently inspiring.
Creative folk need to be constantly inspired and influenced. It’s a complex balance, and it’s often very personal. Most find being in cultural city centers such as London’s East Central best, but many also draw it from the free space of an old farm or countryside dwelling. A good agency will keep and attract like-minded people.
All the great creative agencies have had, or still have, bullish single-minded leadership. Behind them are an eclectic array of like-minded staff blended with a cocktail of strategic arrogance and a heavy dose of atmospheric fun.
The second crux, is that all humans need social connection, and for creatives, that means creative connections. No matter where you are, you simply must be, and feel, connected. This connection was recently discussed by the RSA.
Ultimately it’s what the agency stands for: It’s leaders, it’s first few new employees, and a conviction and single-mindedness to what it stands for.
The building may help impress a client initially, but after the first meeting, it’s what you stand for, the characters the clients meet, and underneath it all – what you can do for their brand and their career. Good agencies know who they are, and won’t falter from this, even in a recession. Building and mediums may change. But providing a single-minded approach remains. The great creative work will not.
It’s an old analogy, but your mum was right: Beauty comes from within (as does agency profit, inspiring creative work, happy clients, and a career filled with happiness and success).