A view from Nils Leonard

We are a product of our culture, not of convention

One clear benefit to working in a network agency for us was that there were no names above the door to haunt us with ego and decisions we’d never have made. We wanted a way to make something from everybody right now, not just build on the sexy side partings back there in 1917 when the agency started up.

Our culture was born when we removed the sign-off system. Some people said it wouldn’t work; they said that chaos and poor craft would reign, and it didn’t.

When we pulled creatives out of offices because the thick doors and shiny glass reinforced hierarchy and slowed ideas down, some people resigned. That hurt a bit at the time but it paid us back and we grew stronger.

It was this stuff that gave Grey new meaning.

We realised that we weren’t just trying to build a good agency but a good culture. We were trying to build more than just a good management team. A punchy, radically collaborative way of working built around speed and original thinking. A belief that, no matter what discipline you hailed from, your opinion was valid.

Truly creative cultures are rarely the product of one or two people. When you look at almost any great breakthroughs from discovering DNA, albums we lost our virginity to and the shows we all love, they are the product of groups, not individuals. The achievements we enjoy most all tend to start with people coming together and ferociously chasing a simple dream.

Like most great clients, a culture doesn't give a shit about your fancy title or shiny awards on your shelf

And because the best cultures are all about people, not ego, they aren’t scared to swap roles, see things from other perspectives or challenge traditional shapes to get what they want. Here’s the truth. Unlike most agencies, cultures can be good at trust.

And we watched people previously held down by agency pyramids flourish without dependency or job title holding them back.

You could look at Grey London and say that it has a creative as its chairman and a planner as its chief executive. But the one thing our culture has never cared about is a label.

Like most great clients, a culture doesn’t give a shit about your fancy title or shiny awards on your shelf, about your heritage or how you got here. It doesn’t worry about Oxford or whether you sold cars or gave up a position on the door of Spearmint Rhino to get where you are.

So, as we make big decisions around the leadership of the agency, our same rules apply. Our culture didn’t need to find a suit to be the CEO this time round. It didn’t need to advertise. The right culture is more powerful than any single hire could be, and much less fragile. We did what we’ve always done: we stopped listening to convention, and listened to our culture.

Nils Leonard is the chairman and chief creative officer of Grey London

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