At Ad Agencies, the Concierge Will Now Shine Your Shoes and Cook Your Dinner (So you never have to leave the office)

At Nashville’s Bohan Advertising, staffers sometimes get too busy with work and travel to shop for groceries, return library books or wait at home for the cable guy. When that happens, they call “Aunt Tilly” and such personal chores get done. Likewise, at Young & Rubicam in New York, when folks can’t find 10 minutes to leave their desks for a shoe shine, or drop off and pick up dry cleaning, they contact Ben Rydell, and he makes sure their Oxfords are buffed and dress shirts creased to perfection.

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Bohan launched its concierge service—christened “Call Aunt Tilly,” in honor of chairman David Bohan’s aunt—a month ago. Y&R engaged master concierge Rydell three years ago. Providing this perk gives the shops another tool to attract and retain talent in the face of fierce competition from tech companies and Wall Street. The programs also make life easier and saner for staffers who often spend 60 hours or more at the office during the workweek.

“Concierge services help staff reclaim more time in the day to handle higher priorities,” said Singleton Beato, evp of diversity & inclusion strategy and talent development at the 4A’s. The practice can decrease employees’ stress levels, boost productivity and ultimately “help an agency improve its employer brand” in the marketplace, she said.

Ben Rydell has been master concierge for Young & Rubicam for the past three years.

“We wanted to create a program to help with work-life balance,” said Shari Day, CEO at Bohan, an independent shop with 80 employees. “It’s the right thing to do for employees.” The agency offers the perk through local concierge firm Penterman Professional Care. Employees can sign up for 10 hours of free services per quarter—which costs Bohan about $20,000 during each three-month frame.

A few weeks back, Cristina Goodenough, executive engagement director at Bohan, gave the agency’s Aunt Tilly a spin, contracting a professional chef to prepare meals including Pad Thai, lasagna, tortellini soup and quesadillas, placed in storage containers in the refrigerator or freezer for later use. “My husband and I travel and work long hours certain times of the year, so this afforded us time to be together and have access to delicious meals at the end of our workday,” she said. (Goodenough paid for the ingredients, but the chef’s services were free.)

The upshot? Goodenough felt like she was truly “valued” and perceived as “more than just a number” by her employer, she said.

Meanwhile, at Y&R, many employees find Rydell’s services invaluable. He mans a command post in the third-floor lobby, coordinating various personal-care services, performed both inside and outside the office, for about 1,500 staffers. “Ben is everyone’s go-to guy,” said Shelley Diamond, the agency’s chief client officer. “There are days when the team is up against a crazy deadline, and Ben can eliminate some of their life stresses.” Rydell arranges weekly events (days for haircuts, manicures and massages), seeks out deals and discounts on dining and other New York City activities for staff and clients, and even has his own ZIP code at the shop for personal package deliveries.

Similarly, employees at Interpublic’s Hill Holliday in Boston rely on their “Beauty Room” for various health and style-related activities, including subsidized massages. “Our hours are so inconsistent that having these services in the office are a huge relief,” said associate creative director Ramon Ariel De Los Santos.

Some industry executives, however, aren’t fans of such in-house offerings. They say these programs actually sabotage work-life balance by keeping employees on-site for even longer hours.

“Agencies that have that service are predatory of their employees’ time,” said David Baldwin, founder of Baldwin& in Raleigh, N.C. “I find the need for it a bit repugnant.”

Joe Newfield, co-founder and partner at School of Thought in San Francisco, also disapproved. “We let people work where they want, as long as the work gets done,” he said. “If they need to stay home for the cable guy, or to take their kid to the doctor, we are fine with that.”

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of Adweek magazine.

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