Pearlfisher's pitfalls of opening an office in New York

Karen Welman

In the run up to the Agency Leadership Assembly in London on Wednesday 29th May, Pearlfisher boss Karen Welman talks to The Drum about how she expanded her agency into New York. Karen and a panel of agency owners will be discussing the experiences of expanding globally at the Agency Leadership Assembly.

1. Why did you choose to expand into New York in 2003?

We had a consistent client already in New York and another that wanted us to focus on New York as a target market and it seemed like an obvious solution at the time.

2. How did you research the New York marketplace in terms of business opportunities, potential staff etc?

Initially we worked on a consultancy basis with a small team servicing our clients, but all the work was being produced in the UK studio. Then of course we went out ourselves to search out new opportunities.

3. What challenges did you face in getting that office up and running and operating effectively and efficiently?

We faced massive challenges that weren’t to be taken lightly. Orientation to a different market is huge and difficult and takes at least a year.

Finding top quality people, who speak the language (yes American is different) and who have the same, or better, standards of creativity was a tough challenge.

Financially, it was always an uphill battle.

4. Did you receive any support from any public or private organisations to realise your international ambitions?

No, apart from lawyers and financial accountants that we paid to advise us.

5. How much time do you personally spend in New York and how do you manage dual offices?

Myself and Jonathan (Ford) are both Creative Partners and also joint CCO's. As such, we each try to spend at least 1 week per month in the New York Studio. We have a fantastic Managing Director and supporting team in the UK and a Managing Partner and EVP in New York. We have a great time and it works.

6. How have you replicated the culture of Pearlfisher London in New York?

To a certain extent, in that the culture of the UK is based on the highest quality design, with a bit of fun thrown in, and the USA is the same. The difference is that they have their own cultural sense of humor and entertainment.

7. What other cities excite you enough to make you consider opening another office and why?

Many many cities excite me including South Africa - a beautiful place to live and a hot spot for creativity (but no money sadly). Possibly West coast USA, Hong Kong and Australia, but at the moment I would be extremely hesitant about opening up anywhere without really good reason because I know how hard it is.

For more details on the speakers and sessions at the Agency Leadership Assembly please visit the conference website.

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