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Grey Group is the smallest of the "Big Four" advertising networks within WPP. In the latest of a series of consolidations of its agency portfolio, WPP announced the merger of Grey in Nov 2020 into digital business AKQA. It will retain the Grey brand for now at least. Prior to its acquisition by WPP in 2005, the group had long been the subject of merger speculation. Although a small number of shares were traded publicly, Grey was to all intents and purposes a private company, controlled by patriarch Ed Meyer. Those years of speculation finally came to an end in 2004 when it was revealed that Meyer was prepared to consider a sale. Grey's reputation for careful account management has earned the loyalty of several long-standing advertisers, not least Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline, both clients for more than 60 years, and Canon for 40. Despite the strength of such client relationships, Grey was traditionally better known for careful and methodical account management than for outstanding creativity. However, the agency has taken giant steps since the mid-2000s to improve the overall quality of its output, with its New York and London offices leading that charge. That led to a string of significant account gains in the late 2000s and early 2010s. However, Grey's performance has stalled a little since global creative chief Tor Myrhen left to join Apple in 2016, and major account wins have been comparatively rare since then. That has made the network increasingly dependent on those two longstanding global clients P&G and GSK. Michael Houston was global CEO of Grey with John Patroulis as global chief creative officer. Houston becomes president & COO of the newly enlarged AKQA Group under CEO Ajaz Ahmed. AdAge estimated global revenues of $702m for Grey in 2019, of which a little under half was generated in the US. The network operates around 55 offices spread across 45 countries.

Capsule checked 24th August 2020

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Historical profile information for Grey

Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Daily Update 31st Mar 2021: "Widen The Screen". All credit to Procter & Gamble for putting its full weight behind the drive to improve equality opportunities for the African American community. The packaged goods giant has a strong track record for consistently highlighting issues of inequality within American society with a series of similar ads in recent years. Now, Grey New York adds a powerful new argument to the mix, calling for a more balanced portrayal of Black life in America instead of the usual dramatic stereotypes. It coincides with the launch of a new P&G-backed initiative to encourage filmmakers and creative artists from minority groups. "While we've made equality a top priority within P&G and worked with other companies to do the same, we recognize that is just not enough," says P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard. "We have to address the systemic inequalities that exist in our industry, and that's why 'Widen The Screen' is a critically important initiative, not just for P&G, but for the industry. In stepping up and levelling the playing field for Black creators, we will enable change that will benefit all under-represented groups and result in higher quality, more relevant film, television and advertising content that deepens our appreciation of the richness of our society."

Adbrands Daily Update 28th Jan 2021: "Best Unbox Ever With Cayden". Grey New York's devastating PSA for gun control lobbyist States United to Prevent Gun Violence starts off as a light-hearted parody but quite quickly becomes almost unwatchable. The change in tone that takes place as soon as the jolly music stops is actually quite amazing, and I actually found myself looking away. As director Kevin Wilson Jr acknowledges, the situation depicted is all too believable. "As a parent and storyteller, I'm in a very unique position to approach my stories from the point of view of a guardian who cares deeply about protecting the innocence of children. No child should have to lose their life or deal with the guilt of having accidentally taken a life because of the unsafe storing practices of adults."

Adbrands Daily Update 11th Nov 2020: The latest consolidation of WPP agencies won't be too much of a surprise to many. Struggling with weak performance for the past year or so, the global Grey network is to be merged into digital agency AKQA, under the control of the latter's founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed. Grey CEO Michael Houston becomes president & COO of the newly enlarged AKQA Group. Grey is expected to retain its name for the time being at least. "Nothing disappears on day one," says WPP CEO Mark Read said. "But, over time, we'll bring the companies closer together." According to the official release, the two brands "will be integrated over time into a single company based on client and market needs. The management team and creative leadership will be announced in the coming weeks, comprising leaders from AKQA and Grey." Updated: Plans to eliminate the Grey name altogether, in the medium term or even perhaps long term, have been blocked by key client Procter & Gamble. A P&G spokesperson confirmed to Ad Age that their top marketer Marc Pritchard had been "upset" by media reports that the Grey name would be "going away. He was told that this is not the case and that Grey 'will remain intact' and the Grey name is not going away."

Adbrands Daily Update 11th Jun 2020: "The Choice" Respect to Procter & Gamble for grasping the nettle so firmly. The packaged goods giant has delivered what is arguably the boldest statement to-date from any major advertiser over the burning issue of the racial divide in modern America. It's an incendiary debut for Keith Cartwright's new eponymous creative boutique, backed by Grey. To its considerable credit, P&G has form in this field. It has taken a firm stance for at least the past three years on issues of race, with ads such as 'The Talk', and last year's 'The Look', also overseen by Cartwright under the auspices of the Saturday Morning collective. While other advertisers including McDonald's and Nike have paid their respects to victims of police brutality, P&G dares to go much further: "Being white in America is not needing to state your life matters. And when your life matters you have power. Now is the time to use it..." Perhaps most surprisingly of all, this is an actual call to the barricades: "Words and feelings are not enough. Now is the time to take action." Stirring stuff.

Adbrands Daily Update 4th Jun 2020: Grey is offering financial backing and network support to newly launched LA creative boutique Cartwright. Its principal is the former 72andSunny creative director Keith Cartwright, who was also a founder member of the Saturday Morning African-American creative collective. "You have to be lean and move quickly," Cartwright told Adweek. "This model creates very high-touch leadership, including myself, where we work more directly with clients and their leadership to engage constantly. What slows things down in the industry is resourcing and process. But how do you do that in a way where you can still scale? Part of Cartwright's uniqueness is our ability to lean into that network and the people there we trust. And then, we can adapt and move out when we don't need those resources." The new 20-staffer unit has already signed some powerful clients. P&G - for whom Saturday Morning created last year's 'The Look' campaign - is on the roster along with Facebook and LVMH-owned Loro Piana.

More about Grey from Adbrands Weekly Update


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