Sweet Spot: 7 Ways an Ad Agency Thrives in Brooklyn

Creative dynamo 72andSunny finds the right vibe on the waterfront in Dumbo

The Dumbo offices of 72andSunny come with a view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (All photos by John Muggenborg/johnmuggenborg.com)

The light cannot be overestimated. Or the view of the bridges. Or the giant open floor cutaway with grand stairs merging two floors, which gives the sense that ideas flow up, down and sideways here with ease.

So yeah, 72andSunny has a pretty sweet office set-up.

If creative workplaces need their proper physical approximation to do creative work, then the ad agency 72andSunny has found its ideal home in Dumbo’s Empire Stores building—originally a production facility for roasted coffee beans—hugging Brooklyn Bridge Park in the shadow of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Currently housing 120 people (with plenty of room to grow) on two floors, the mid-century industrial space is a recent change after outgrowing their NoHo space near Cooper Square in Manhattan.

Nestling themselves in creative environments is something of a habit for the 13-year-old company with offices in Los Angeles and Amsterdam. Their California campus is housed in the renovated offices and drafting houses on Howard Hughes’ old research and development complex in Playa Vista.

“Our business is our talent. We make creative assets that go out into the world, but then they disappear or maybe live on the Internet, so our talent is our equity, and they need to have the best possible environment,” says New York Managing Director James Townsend on a recent appropriately sunny afternoon, noting that square footage literally defines how many people you can employ and how much money you can make. “We’re like a law firm. If you have more employees, you can make more money.”

But the primary driver of this location, he says, is that they’re a storytelling and creative communications company, necessitating that the space, by default, comes with an interesting story. Hard to be innovative in a basement under fluorescent lights. But Dumbo, of course, delivers. Here are a few ways 72andSunny—and other companies—take advantage of setting up shop in Brooklyn.

1. Quality of life

“It’s a tough business we work in, people are here for long hours, and we want to look after them with nice hangout areas and kitchens and outdoor space,” says Townsend. During discussions for the move, they weren’t pro- or anti-Brooklyn or Manhattan, but nothing seemed to suit their needs as well as the Dumbo space, which provided a clean palette for them to design and build from scratch. For most, the commute is easy. Many employees live in Brooklyn and some Manhattanites ride bikes or walk across the bridge. The ferry from Williamsburg to Dumbo helps, too. “The response has been unanimously positive,” he says of employee reactions.

2. Building a new home

A giant staircase connecting two floors acts as a kind of bleachers for the ad team

There are advantages to being removed from the traditional Madison Avenue race. “Our industry is in a struggle to create new and interesting ways to work, and it’s easier to do it in a different place,” he says. “It’s like Tesla being in California and not in Detroit.” The energy in Brooklyn is calmer and, perhaps, more conductive to creativity. Workplaces can be defined in two ways: energizing or energy-sucking. And when your company is made up of inventors and designers, copywriters and project managers, the through line is to increase creativity. So if anyone has trouble focusing, they need only to walk over to the window and look out at the river—or walk outside to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

3. Ch-ch-ch-change is good

“Our inspiration is to find opportunity in change and not to fight it,” says Townsend. That’s led to successful recent campaigns, including last year’s Adidas campaign in which 13 female athletes discussed sports through the lens of creativity—all told through social media. 72andSunny also worked with Samsung on the release of Rihanna’s last album ANTI, and collaborated with Punchdrunk, the company behind Sleep No More, to build out an interactive VR experience where fans could virtually walk through rooms of her life and watch a series of TV films. The campaign won an award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2016.

4. One company, three outposts

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The agency’s pet-friendly policy is one of many comfy amenities

Despite the physical distance between their global offices, Townsend says there’s an open flow of people, with employees eager and welcome to travel between outposts, which helps eliminate communication snafus. “We ignore the dangerous traps of territorialism and lack of openness,” he says. Ad campaigns are displayed out in the open, not in the glass conference rooms (which are named after Saturday Night Live comedians). And of course the pleasant surroundings help—it’s hard to get upset at a coworker when you find out you eat the same breakfast cereal.

5. Smash the norms

Apply the standard trope that someone needs to live in the city for 10 years to be considered a New Yorker, and 72andSunny, which opened its original New York branch in 2014, is still a fresh-faced newbie. Apparently that has perks. “When you start a company in New York City in 2014, you automatically get a wider cross-section of humanity [working there],” says Townsend. “You’re not dealing with 20 or 30 years of heritage- or gender-based issues.” This is reflected in their diverse workforce with an over 50% female staff and 30% non-Caucasian at the director level or higher and in the creative departments.

6. Diversity of opinion matters

“You need a super diverse set of brains working on problems these days,” he says. “Our aspiration is to reflect modern America,” he says. “It’s as lofty and as functional but as simple as that. We’re a culture company, so we need to reflect the culture that we’re in.” A high-minded goal, sure, but not a purely selfless one (as nothing is in business). Creative is simply better with different opinions, especially in a fractured advertising industry where campaigns are increasingly tailored to niche communities. In previous decades, a group of city-dwelling white dudes might dream up a television ad campaign pitched to the general population (or at least all those who own TVs). Now agencies can specialize their digital campaigns, splicing generalized audiences of millions into receptive audiences of thousands.

7. Don’t forget to blend into the neighborhood

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The ad agency’s offices are in the Empire Stores complex, also home to West Elm’s headquarters

With the recent announcement that Soho House is opening a Brooklyn outpost of its private members club right next door—named, appropriately, “Dumbo House”—this area of Dumbo is about to get more, well, boozy. Townsend has talked to the London-based founders and is interested in how the two companies can help each other so the neighborhood is still welcoming to people who aren’t all bankers living in Brooklyn Heights. 72andSunny is also looking to collaborate with new downstairs neighbor FEED Projects, the company founded by Lauren Bush Lauren to fight hunger around the world.

7.2 But remember to keep that campus vibe

Of course, we must mention the obvious: this sunlit space contains a very nice kitchen, coffee and beer taps, and other sundries associated with the modern workplace. Brooklyn creatives gotta eat, too.

Kara Cutruzzula is a writer living in Fort Greene. Her articles, essays, and plays can be found here.