‘From way back when people had actual offices. With actual furniture.’
It’s been ages since most of us have seen the inside of an office. And not just because the Pandemic has had many working folks working virtually.
See, even before The Great Scourge sent office workers scrambling for work-from-home kitchen counter space, actual offices were on the wane.
I’m talking here about “offices” as not just places where people work, as in “the New York office,” but your very own space at work. A place with four walls and an actual door—where you could shut said door and adjust your slip in complete privacy before settling down at your desk to tackle that Huggies copy.
Yes, there was a time when even the lowliest copywriter, wet behind the ears and fresh from the Midwest, had an office. The only people who didn’t were the secretaries, who sat outside in the hall. I know this because I was mistaken for a secretary on my first day at Ogilvy. Seated in the hall and handed a sheaf of letters to write, too. (You can read more about this in “Take a Letter, Miss Henry.“) Incidentally, they were indeed called “secretaries;” they even had a “Day” when you brought them flowers.
Offices were a really big deal in those days. Your status was judged not by whether you had one (because everyone did) but how big it was and where it was located. Corner offices were a big deal. Also the higher your floor in the office building, the cooler you were. My office at Ogilvy was on eight. So was my boss’s, she of the blue lizard Maud Frizons. But hers, natch, was in the corner. The head Creative Honcho was on nine. And David Ogilvy was on whatever was the tippy top. Twelve? I don’t know. I was too lowly ever to be invited there.
Offices were so important that even in the late eighties, when Ogilvy (the company) moved to new digs at Worldwide Plaza, everyone—well, again, everyone except the secretaries—still got an office. Ogilvy was doing very well in those getting-new-accounts-every-ten-minutes days. So well that the number of new hires exploded and closets were being converted into offices. Seriously. There were offices so tiny that the ceilings were higher than the walls were wide. But they were offices, goldarnit.
But about me stealing the couch. As I mentioned, I did in fact get an office at Ogilvy on the very first day I was there. Well, once the Secretary Thing was straightened out. But my office, while reasonable in size and equipped with a very nice window, had just a desk and a chair.
Now, you might think a desk and a chair would be more than enough furniture for a young whippersnapper copywriter to work with. But. Heady with power after learning my job did not involve typing letters—or even any real typing; the secretaries did that—I was craving a table, a side chair, perhaps even a couch.
The problem here was that only Vice Presidents were entitled to office accoutrements like side chairs and couches. (See me up at the top of this post, when eventually I did become a Vice President, seated in a VP chair in a corner of my vast VP office.)
But back there in my Ogilvy Beginnings, I was working late one night, putting the finishing touches on some Shake ‘n Bake copy perhaps, and found out that another office occupant—a Vice President with VP furniture—had just resigned. So I swooped in and “appropriated” some of his furniture.
The next day this natty besuited guy stuck his head into my office to say hello to the new hire (me). He introduced himself as “Ken” and complimented my furniture: “How did you get that nice couch?” “So and So left, so I took it before anyone else could,” I answered. “Well, I guess that’s the way to get things done around here. Good for you,” he replied, then scooted off down the hall.
I found out soon enough that “Ken” was none other than Ken Roman, CEO of Ogilvy. And later that week when the office manager came to collect the furniture and confronted me about “not being at a sufficient level to have vice-presidential furniture” I looked him in the eye and said, “Ken Roman said I could have it.”
Amagansett, New York. February 2021