Wellbeing Agency Life Agencies

Droga5’s latest effort to make office life bearable: a bar-of-record


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

November 21, 2023 | 7 min read

Employers want to return to pre-2020 working culture, but the pandemic disrupted the social lives of many offices. At Droga5, leaders hope the perfect pub can placate punters.

A pint of beer being poured from a tap

A decent selection of draught beer was, naturally, key in Droga5's decision / Unsplash

Whether or not it’s a good idea and whether it’s even beneficial to a business, more and more big agencies are mandating that employees work predominantly from the office. For agencies hoping to offer some carrot to accompany the winter commute stick, a bit of office-based socializing at a local pub or bar never hurt. But the pandemic bodyslammed the hospitality industry. A lot of venues favored by agency staffers vanished, especially for Droga5’s New York, which was keen to tempt staff back to its Wall Street headquarters.

According to chief creative officer Scott Bell, the agency’s watering hole since 2015 – The Trading Post – was another casualty of coronavirus. “It was a no-frills pub: reasonably priced drinks with plenty of bar tops for a decent sized crowd of Droga employees to gather at,” he says. “You’d get a good group of 30-40 Drogans mingling. It was a good place to hang out, and it was within a block from the office, which was the most important thing.”

This autumn, it’s been searching for a new nightspot using a time-honored industry method: the competitive review. Key factors at the RFP stage include major client Coors Lite on draught, vibes, walking distance, reasonable non-alcoholic options, bad wifi, and low prices. “We’re looking to get a good ROI on our beer and booze investment,” says Bell. “Added value” in the form of a decent bourbon selection, quiz nights or karaoke were also weighed up.

Though bosses are welcome – agency founder David Droga would occasionally join the team at The Trading Post, says Bell, before typically making an “Irish exit” – they don’t want staff typing away in booths.

Finally, Bell is wary of other shops stepping on his team’s toes. With the World Trade Center (which hosts staffers from WPP and Stagwell, among other media organizations) a few blocks away, plenty of agency folks are in the vicinity. But they’ve been warned from the turf.

“We want a strict noncompete that none of these other agencies are allowed to hang out at our bar of record unless invited,” he adds.

“We’re very picky about our bar-of-record,” says Bell. “We’re looking for a drinking establishment that really represents the future of drinking establishments. We’re looking for these drinking establishments to bring that vision to us.”

According to Bell, an internal agency committee created a longlist of venues that met its initial criteria, including Irish pub Killarney Rose (established 1968) and Fresh Salt on Beekman Street (‘Happy hour specials every day’). The gang tried to pull in the whole shop by printing out Yelp reviews of local bars and attaching them to office walls.

After some initial chemistry calls – that is, bewildering barkeeps by calling up and asking about “capabilities” – they narrowed that list to a final trio and headed out on an official bar crawl to put them to the test before putting the decision to an office-wide vote.

“The bartender at Killarney Rose was very confused to be on the phone with us,” recalls Bell. Bell asked what ‘set them apart what sets it apart from other drinking establishments in the financial district.’ “He said, not a lot. ‘But we have good booze and cheap booze.’”

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Jokes aside, Bell says that the lack of a “consistent place that everyone knows they can go to and find other people from work” has led to a “fracture” in the adland social scene. Droga5’s effort “to consolidate… and bring some drinking synergy” is its response.

“I’ve always been jealous of the London pub agency scene. You knew if you went after work, you’d run into people and have a good chance to just hang out and let off some steam,” he says. “Every agency since the pandemic has probably been in a similar place [when it comes to] building culture and having some fun – and that’s what’s needed in the industry at the moment.”

A few days after our interview, one of Bell’s colleagues emails me to deliver the big news: a decision has been made, and Killarney Rose has taken the account. We’ll check back in a few months to see how appealing this particular carrot proves to be in the drive back to the office.

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