Now the mighty Mix is headquartered in Manchester, it would be horribly amiss of us not to take note when a major new city centre development appears.
We’d like to think we’d be ‘all over’ this project even before our own relocation to the North West – after all, this is the first major new workplace project in the (now) vibrant Spinningfields area of the city for a good few years.
There’s no missing who is the latest Spinningfields resident either, as the spectacular new façade and large scale MediaCom signage grabs your attention from Deansgate.
MediaCom handles the media planning and buying for some of the world’s smartest advertisers. Supported by keen consumer insight, analysis and experience, the company is part of the largest media buying network in the world. The MediaCom network comprises 5,800 people working in 122 offices in 97 countries – and can boast a number of the world’s most successful brands as clients, including P&G, Coca-Cola and the Volkswagen Group.
We’re met in the bright, street-facing reception by John Marshall, Managing Partner at MediaCom North, who is happy to show us around this landmark scheme.
The reason we make specific reference to the street-facing nature of the reception is that we’re already aware, having met John before, that this was just one of a number of facilities and functions MediaCom North had not previously been able to enjoy. ‘We wanted this reception space to be open, friendly and lively,’ John tells us as we walk through to the impressive ground floor client facing space, passing smart breakout seating on the way. ‘The space can either be two large meeting rooms or can be broken down into one large function space – we can fit round 140 people here. We held a seminar here in just our second week in and it worked really well. I was really gratified by that – it is exactly what we hoped for.’
‘When it was a raw structure we still walked around these floors feeling a little terrified – although we knew we had employed professionals and experts who were able to calm us down!’
MediaCom North hoped for a lot from its new home, of course, but as John explains, this exercise involved a huge leap of faith. ‘We were doing all this planning for a building that doesn’t yet exist! We committed to something that was essentially a patch of grass. The challenge was to make sure we could reach a point – as quickly as possible – where we could visualize things. We got there, although the size of that patch of grass didn’t quite compute with what is here today. It didn’t make any visual sense at the time.
‘When it was a raw structure we still walked around these floors feeling a little terrified – although we knew we had employed professionals and experts who were able to calm us down!
‘This is probably the first significant new build in central Manchester since the credit crunch, so I’d like to think it symbolises a bit of a renaissance in commerce in this city.
‘I don’t think we realised how brave we were being. There were cranes in the centre of Manchester, putting enormous slabs of concrete and steel together and there were roads being closed as a consequence of a choice made by the board of Directors! It’s been a real journey.’
We walk on through the bright and brilliant client facing facility before reaching the first of the office floorplates. ‘This is our finance department,’ John explains, ‘and for every floor we have a different signature colour – which are taken from our corporate colour palette. Fortunately, we have really nice corporate colours!
‘The rest of the palette has been kept neutral. We did go and talk to the staff when they got wind that we were having grey carpets – I think they were concerned that the space would be quite drab, but it’s a really nice shade and the colours work really well.’
John’s right. Those bright ‘pops’ of colour elevate and enliven the subtle, stylish palette employed elsewhere. Heading back into the client facing suite we can’t help but stop and admire the cool light fittings and furniture solutions.
Aware that John’s time is precious, we quickly catch him up and, as we make our way up to the first floor, ask him why MediaCom decided to make this bold and brilliant move from just down the road in Castlefield. ‘We had reached the point where we had more staff than we could hold in Castlefield,’ John admits, ‘but I think this is also a statement about what this business has become. Castlefield was the only place we’d ever been and people were happy there. If you’re a graduate coming into your first job in an advertising agency that building was the kind of space you’d expect to find – it was classical, with high ceilings, wooden beams etc. We could have redeveloped it but that would have been extremely problematic – and it wouldn’t have been a statement of intent. I think this is a real statement of intent. Just go outside and look at that MediaCom logo at the top. That says we’re at the heart of the commercial sector of Manchester.’
Reaching the first floor we find a variety of breakout and meeting spaces – indeed John tells us that it was extremely important to the team that MediaCom’s staff be encouraged to move away from desks and interact and collaborate.
We also find a smart, slightly more formal meeting space, although this is also open and without doors. There is an amazing amount of natural light throughout the building (even on the dullest of drizzly Manchester mornings) courtesy of the extremely large windows here. ‘We also have the ubiquitous table football,’ John grins. ‘We are an ad agency after all!’
John is keen for us to take a look at the fourth floor, which is a mix of Directors’ area, staff and cafe. ‘Once we got our heads around the fact that we weren’t going to achieve 16,000 sq ft on one floor and were going to have to be on multi-floors, so we really wanted a space that encourages people to come up to and naturally congregate in.
There is an amazing amount of natural light throughout the building (even on the dullest of drizzly Manchester mornings)
‘What we’ve ended up with here is a boardroom, a series of Alcove booths and then the Directors’ offices. The real heart of the floor, however, is the café. We don’t let people eat anything other than a chocolate bar or bag of crisps downstairs – we want them to come up here and use the space, meet and interact with one another.
Speaking of meeting, we find Claremont Group Interiors Associate Director Ken Bundy already sat in the café. Before we chat with Ken about the design challenges he and the team faced here, John is keen to take us through to the amazing roof terrace. Even on a miserable day, this really is a ‘wow’ space. ‘Just a couple of weeks ago we had 80 people out here, sat on the bleacher-style seating,’ John tells us. ‘It didn’t feel like 80 people – it’s such a nice space to have. I love the little details, such as the smart little LED lights.’
John leads us back in from the drizzle and kindly offers to fetch some coffees while we say hello to Ken. We begin by asking about the Claremont/MediaCom working partnership. ‘Claremont was appointed as the design team and Bluu Interiors did the fit-out work,’ Ken tells us. ‘I have to say that the content and the intent – all the things that we spoke with the team about at the very beginning and consulted with the staff about – have all come together. The really good thing is that, from now on, they have flex – they can adapt things, they can tweak and change as they wish and need.
‘It is an open, fresh space. It would have been easy to leave this as a standard office space but I think the vision of the client has allowed us to change that, to move that on – and I think it does give it a creative feel.’
‘The reason we appointed Claremont was because they challenged the brief,’ John interjects. ‘We always encourage our people to challenge our client’s briefs – so we liked the fact that they did exactly that back to us. The brief back to us wasn’t contradictory – they told us ‘If you really want to do what you say you want to do, then you have to do this first…’ I think that’s when the penny dropped for us. We realised this is who we want to work with.’
We ask Ken to tell us more about that brief. ‘They wanted to connect everybody essentially,’ he recalls. ‘In their existing space there was no coming together, there was no communal space – because they’d grown into it as it were and the architecture simply didn’t allow it. We knew this building would not just allow people to connect – it could foster that coming together.
‘There is a real design intent within this company. We went to their London office and looked at what they had done there – and we have replicated a couple of elements from that, although there were no standards forced upon us other than the colours we have used. They certainly had the desire to make the space media savvy and creative for both their staff and clients. When you see the ground floor – and how that space flexes, how it changes from big to small spaces – that really is a big success for them. We’ve really made that space work – but that all comes from their drive. We, in turn, certainly pushed for them to allow the staff and the clients to engage – to be completely open. It’s a far easier process when you are working alongside open, creative people.
‘It’s interesting that we’re now looking at taking some desks away and putting in some more of the softer touchdown spaces. We’ve kept the middle of each floor open as informal space – and that’s critical to our scheme here. Everybody wanted somewhere to go to brainstorm and to chat – to be able to get away from the desks.
‘Thankfully, John and the team were extremely strong – they really stuck to what they wanted and were really open to any suggestions we made.’
Our time is up – and by the look of things the drizzle has cleared. That sounds like a perfect excuse for us to head out and visit one or two of Spinningfields’ other main attractions