BATES WORLDWIDE: THE INSIDE STORY

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — There will be no confusing the sleek, modern look of the Bates Worldwide offices at 498 Seventh Avenue with the garment showrooms that share the same address.
Visitors to Bates enter through a separate door at 498 and walk into a warm mottled caramel room, where on the curved walls four flat-screen plasma monitor televisions play loops of Bates-produced ads or clips about its business units like 141 Worldwide, a new media network for sales promotion and marketing. A glass-and-steel elevator cage rises to the second floor, the heart of the agency, where its main reception area and client presentations are housed.
The lobby is appointed with cherry hardwood floors and subtle watercolors by San Antonio artist Jesse Almazan.
The main presentation room is dominated by a triangular assemblage of tables and filled with state-of-the-art electronics. There is, for example, a transmitter that can be fixed to a Bates staffer’s lapel. It activates lighting that follows that person around the room, lending drama to presentations.
Just behind it is another presentation room, and between the two is the Bates Living Room, a space furnished with a big tobacco leather couch and plush chairs where guests and speakers can mingle before a big pitch, something like the “green room” of TV studios.
Gary Steele, managing director for Bates Retail, said the design of the offices was created to extend a feeling of openness to employees as well as visitors. The Bates research library, its audio/visual center, information technology facilities and copy rooms are all housed behind large glass windows or striated Plexiglas so that guests can view the company’s inner workings.
Like many advertising and communications businesses, Bates wanted an open design that would facilitate staff interaction, but the move to cubicles from private offices in the Chrysler Building initially created fear among the staff that they might wind up in an office like the one in the Dilbert comic strip. The challenge was to create an environment that was open and familial, but businesslike, functional and comfortable.
Throughout Bates’s seven floors and 230,000 square feet there are some 40 conference rooms and 50 “quiet rooms,” which are closet-like anterooms where workers can plug into their laptops and work privately, away from their cubicles.
There are also amenities like a complementary coffee and cappuccino bar on every floor, an upscale cafeteria with a glass-enclosed atrium and, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., there is the Bates Bar, a full-service liquor bar in a space that overlooks the Seventh Avenue entrance and designed in the style of trendy downtown eateries like Fressen or Il Bottino. It is open Tuesdays through Fridays. Smoking lounges are on each floor.
There are other fun touches throughout the company. Outside the library there is a “No Good Golfer” pinball game, and in a glass-enclosed stairwell that cuts through five floors of Bates, there is a floor-to-ceiling blackboard where staffers can write welcomes to their clients.
Conference rooms vary from department to department, with one that has rubber floors and another with a wall of small pillows attached by Velcro, and — possibly inspired by the unisex rest rooms in “Ally McBeal” — the men’s and women’s bathrooms are divided by a frosted glass wall.
In Bates’s basement cafeteria, where the coffee is by Starbucks and the entrees tend toward dishes like mako seasoned with chili and cumin, architects converted an alleyway behind 498 into a glass-enclosed atrium, where employees can eat lunch while watching old movies like “Casablanca” that are projected onto a white wall.
“There’s an interesting balance to be made in this business,” said Bill Whitehead, chief executive officer of Bates North America. “You don’t want to look so wealthy that the client says, ‘Gee whiz, is this where my money is going?’ But at the same time, you want to look contemporary enough so that it reflects creativity, innovation and big ideas.”