Grey London is one of Grey Global's biggest international outposts and was its first office outside the US in 1962. In 2007, Grey London also absorbed the remaining clients and staff of sister shop United London (formerly HHCL). Until recently, local subsidiaries included the integrated agency formerly known as Joshua, latterly part of Grey's worldwide G2 network. In a shift of alignments though, the G2 network was absorbed into what is now Geometry during 2013. Instead Grey is partnered across Europe with WPP's digital network Possible, now part of Wunderman. However, the most significant change at the agency in recent years has been an extraordinary improvement in the quality of its creative work, previously considered one of its weak points. In recent years, Grey London has earned a reputation as one of the UK's top agencies by creative output, although there has been a slight pause in that extraordinary turnaround since the exodus of several key managers in 2016. In 2017, the agency changed its name temporarily to Valenstein & Fatt - after the original founders of Grey advertising - to highlight the need for a more ethnically diverse recruitment process across the wider marketing industry.
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Despite its size, Grey has traditionally featured among the lower ranks of international agencies active in the UK by billings. It ranked #14 in 2014, having hovered between a high of #12 (in 2005) and #20 in 2009. However, as a result of dynamic performance both locally and at network level, billings have soared since 2015 according to Nielsen estimates (in Campaign). The figure of £203m that year, up by more than a third on the year before, earned Grey London a place in the UK Top Ten for the very first time. It also became WPP's single biggest advertising agency in the UK, overtaking longtime champion RKCR/Y&R. Another leap in billingas in 2016 put Grey among the UK's top four with £271m.
Like its US parent, Grey London had for many years suffered a reputation for highly conservative creative work. A series of management reshuffles over the years attempted to alter this perception and boost creative output, but with varying degrees of success. Grey finally began to break out of that pigeonhole in 2005 and 2006, with an edgy series of ads for Remington shavers and an impressive and widely admired campaign for AOL. As a result, the agency scored a best-ever performance in terms of the number of awards it picked up, but it was not enough to prevent the loss of either Remington or AOL, and in 2007, it lost its flagship Nokia account as well in a global review.
However, creative output improved significantly again during 2008, with attention-grabbing ads for Toshiba and Country Life butter (with former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten), among others. The creative strength has remained, although billings slipped during 2009 as the group's two biggest clients, Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline, cut spend. Grey demonstrates its greatest strength when working in tandem with its counterpart agencies across Europe to roll out multi-market campaigns. Grey EMEA's skill in this area has won the agency the title of Agency Network of the Year for three consecutive years between 2005 and 2007 in the Euro Effie awards, rewarding pan-European effectiveness. The London agency was IPA Effectiveness Company of the year for 2014.
In addition to the main advertising agency, Grey Group's UK presence includes some specialist subsidiaries. These relationships have changed several times in recent years. A number of previously separate agencies were restructured in 2006, adopting the shared G2 branding. Integrated communications business Joshua absorbed the local arms of design agency G2 and digital shop Grey Interactive, becoming Joshua G2 for several years. It dropped the Joshua tag for a couple of years to become simply G2 London, before relaunching in 2011 as G2 Joshua. Data analytics consultancy MDS and brand design agency GeometryG2 also adopted the G2 brand. However, that bond was broken in 2013 with the merger of the the global G2 network into Geometry Global.
For a while, Grey London's main digital/direct partner was WPP's Possible Worldwide network. They worked together in London under the banner of Grey Possible. However, that unit was effectively disbanded with the merger of Possible into Wunderman. Grey now has its own inhouse digital team working under the Grey X banner. Shopper and promotional marketing services - previously a major part of G2's brief - are now supplied in London by another standalone unit. Originally known as Dialogue, it adopted the Grey Shopper name in 2014. Specialist word-of-mouth and buzz marketing agency Wildfire joined the group in 2007, adopting a new name of The Social Partners. There's also a production studio operating under the Grey Works banner. Grey Response was launxched in 2016 as a joint venture with independent agency WDMP.
Separately the group controls UK-based healthcare communications specialist Darwin Grey, and the local arm of PR network GCI. The group is closely affiliated with the local arm of media network, MediaCom.
The corporate entity for Grey London is Grey Advertising Ltd. It reported gross profit (revenue) of £51.8m in 2016, up very slightly on the year before. Net profit slipped 11% to £7.1m. There were an average of 378 staff over the year.
Chris Hirst became CEO of Grey London in 2010, and had been managing director for the six years before that. In that time, he oversaw the transformation of the agency as a creative force to be reckoned with, not least since the appointment of Nils Leonard as executive creative director. In Feb 2015, Hirst stepped down to join Havas Worldwide. He was succeeded as chief executive by Lucy Jameson, who joined the agency as chief strategy officer in 2012 from DDB, while Nils Leonard took the role of chairman & chief creative officer. However, in a shock development in June 2016, Leonard and Jameson resigned, together with managing director and Vodafone account director Natalie Graeme, to launch their own agency, Uncommon.
Leo Rayman, who had replaced Lucy Jameson as chief strategy officer, moved up to the top job, but transferred in 2018 to a new job as head of Grey's new global consulting division. At the end of 2018, Adrian Rossi was appointed to the new role of creative chairman of Grey London, and Anna Panczyk transferred from Grey Poland in early 2019 to become CEO. Chief creative officer Vicki Maguire resigned later that year to join Havas London.
London was Grey advertising's first international office, established in 1962. Over the following two decades the agency built its presence in the expanding British market and began absorbing smaller shops during the 1970s and 1980s. Leon Lerner was acquired in 1981, becoming second string agency Lerner & Grey. That company acquired Everetts in 1984, and was rebranded as Arc-Everetts, before being sold to management as part of Arc International in 1989. Other acquisitions included AAP Ketchum in 1987, Newton & Godin in 1998, retail specialist Hilton Group in 1989 and Jenner Keating Becker Reay in 1990. Several of these businesses continued to operate as satellite shops post-purchase, but in 1990 Grey absorbed most of its different UK businesses into the main agency. Initially, Reay Keating Hamer, formed from the merger of Jenner Keating and Newton & Godin, retained standalone status. That morphed into Mellors Reay & Partners in 1994, following the recruitment of GGT creative director Tim Mellors, but Mellors Reay too was also absorbed into the main agency in 1998. (Mellors stayed on board as chairman and creative head of Grey London until 2002, and is now a senior officer at Grey North America).
Also in 1998, the agency merged its below-the-line operations Grey Integrated and Grey Direct to form Joshua, and acquired highly regarded media independent The Media Business, which was merged with the local arm of Grey's media operation Mediacom. In 1999, echoing a successful restructuring of Leo Burnett's New York flagship, incoming CEO Steve Blamer divided Grey London into colour-coded sub-agencies in order to encourage flexibility and creative independence. However this led to much internal unhappiness, with the result that several senior staff members resigned, including long-serving chairman Roger Edwards. More successfully, Blamer also streamlined the agency's financial reporting systems and built bridges with other Grey offices. But despite its best efforts, the London outpost was still plagued by an inability to bring in much new business, although it continued to build its profile with core clients P&G, GlaxoSmithkline and Mars. Blamer moved on to Grey New York in 2001 (where he instigated a similar split of the agency into "villages"). The colour-coded scheme was abandoned in London soon afterwards.
In 2002, in its most daring appointment to-date, the group recruited Garry Lace, high-profile head of TBWA London, to become chief executive of Grey London. Industry commentators were stunned by Lace's decision to leave creative hothouse TBWA for the more conservative Grey. Some of the mystery was dispelled when rumours began to circulate that Lace's contract made him one of the UK industry's best-paid executives. True or not, this became the subject of much industry comment over the following months, and Lace kept himself in the headlines with a tough cost-cutting program. Around a fifth of the agency's 250 staff were let go, and Lace recruited a hot new creative and management team, all aged in their 30s. His management style did little to enhance his popularity among long-term staff, but it sparked an upturn in new business. After several dry years, Grey picked up a string of prestigious local accounts including Visa, Dairy Crest, Air Miles and AOL, and surprised many with a run of more daring ads. But Lace's enemies arguably had the last laugh. In early 2004, an anonymous email was circulated within London media circles claiming that he was secretly planning to launch his own customer loyalty scheme in competition with agency client Air Miles. Lace firmly denied the accusations, but attempts to identify the sender of the hoax email were unsuccessful. Shortly afterwards, he resigned from the agency.
Mars, one of Grey's three biggest local clients, announced the transfer of its various brands to other above the line agencies in 2004, causing the agency to announce a number of job cuts. Several other account defections followed. One of the most galling was the loss of the AOL account in 2006, partly as a result of Grey's decision to pitch for, and indeed to be considered as the favourite to win, the account for Sky. However, Sky took the decision to place its account elsewhere, by which time AOL had also moved its business.
Tamara Ingram, a former head of Saatchi & Saatchi London, was headhunted in 2005 as CEO of Grey London, taking responsibility for all of the agency's UK operations. In 2007 she was promoted to group chairman, with special responsibility for managing WPP's groupwide relations with P&G. David Patton, former VP of communications for Sony Europe, joined as CEO of Grey London in September 2007 and oversaw the distinct improvement in the company's creative output. He was promoted to regional CEO for Grey EMEA at the end of 2009, following the retirement of longtime incumbent Carolyn Carter. Nicola Mendelsohn, formerly deputy chairman with responsibility for business development, left to join indie shop Karmarama in 2008. Chief creative officer Jon Williams also moved on, becoming chief digital officer for Grey EMEA.
Last full revision 22nd December 2017
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