Type of agency
Number of UK staff
Grey London's impressive turnaround last year was dramatic enough to warrant a close second place in Campaign's Agency of the Year category... Read more
In August 1917, Larry Valenstein, an 18-year-old college graduate, opened an ad agency in a tiny rented office on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Reluctant to put his own name on the door for fear that business prospects would find it too hard to either pronounce or remember, he named the agency after the colour of his office walls. They were grey.
It was to prove a portentous choice. For it has taken most of the ensuing century for the shop to convince the world-at-large that it could ever rid itself of its “Grey by name, grey by nature” reputation.
Grey was never the go-to agency for scintillating creative work. Instead, it concentrated on doing what it did best – managing complex accounts around the world for big multinational advertisers. The result has been several long-running relationships. GlaxoSmithKline has been a client since 1955, just a year longer than Procter & Gamble.
The way Grey thought and acted was very much a reflection of the personality of Ed Meyer, who ran the place almost as a personal fiefdom from the time he became the chief executive in 1970 to the group’s sale to WPP in 2005. Meyer was a mixed blessing. Although he was one of the best-networked men in US advertising, his management style bred sycophancy with senior executives worried about their backs.
In such circumstances, it was no surprise that Grey’s London agency – just the second outside the US when it opened in 1962 – found it a perpetual problem complementing local business with its internationally aligned accounts and living down its fusty image.
Fast forward to the present and Grey looks much different. With clients such as P&G demanding potent creativity to match account handling skills, the network’s London and New York offices have been leading the charge to improve the overall quality of the creative output.
Such has been the turnaround that anybody suggesting Grey London is a Campaign Agency of the Year-in-waiting would no longer have their sanity questioned.