Last year, the pandemic was prompting some firms to rethink their expensive leases in DC and transition to either fully remote work or occupying a co-working space. That trend may have reached an end.
With an eye toward picking up advocacy clients and more congressional business, Richmond, Va.-headquartered POOLHOUSE is getting ready to officially open its new DC office space — a move other firms may consider as the 2024 cycle is likely to begin earlier than ever.
Will Ritter, co-founder and CEO of the GOP media firm, said his shop got a “pandemic deal” when they signed for space in a building at 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE — a short walk from the Capitol.
“We were looking at some spots that would have been harder to get during a pandemic,” he said, noting the firm signed the lease several months ago. The official opening is set for Sept. 29.
Part of the reason Ritter wanted DC space for his firm, which also has offices in Atlanta, was simply fatigue with the alternatives.
“Trying to take over a corner of a Starbucks while coffee is being ground in the background and you’ve got to ask for the bathroom code — a moment like this made sense for a number of reasons,” he said.
Ritter’s company has also been mainly working in-person even during the pandemic. Its DC-based staff, which includes co-founder Tim O’Toole and producer Tom Dickens, had been using co-working spaces.
“We are a creative company at our heart and creativity means in-person work,” Ritter said. “It means collaboration, and particularly in this kind of fast-paced environment, you need to have the best minds you have around the table banging things out. We think that’s something that you cannot replace with Zoom. You’ve got to make the investment.”
The firm’s investment comes as some in the industry, including some media consultants, have moved away from paying for prestige offices in DC.
In February 2021, Democratic Media consultant Mark Putnam told C&E that his company had paid a six-figure sum to get out of its lease of a top floor of a downtown DC building complete with a view of the Washington Monument and elevators that opened into the suite.
Still, that sum outweighed an even higher six-figure cost if the shop had stayed. After the downsize, which cut the firm’s rental obligation by more than 75 percent, the firm was based out of a co-working space.
“Occasionally, I do miss what we used to have, but I do know the world has changed and I’m enjoying where we are now,” Putnam said. “What we learned through those early months of the pandemic, is that we were just as efficient and effective for our clients working remotely. We found other ways to communicate internally — made high use of Slack, email and texting. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back into an office like that.”
Ritter sees the office space in the District a slightly different way: ”You can’t always be looking for ways to cut. We’re not going to cut to being the best political agency in the business,” he said. “We’ve got to invest to get there.”