Martin Smith, Grey’s new chief executive, and Tim Mellors, the
agency’s executive creative director, are, on the face of it, a
seriously unlikely couple.
It’s Wednesday morning in Mellors’ office and, while Smith is on his
best behaviour, Mellors is characteristically relaxed and informal.
This is Smith’s first interview since Campaign broke the news last week
that he has resigned from his position as deputy chairman at Bartle
Bogle Hegarty - his home for the past 18 years - and is taking over from
Steve Blamer as Grey’s top suit.
To be fair, you could sit Mellors next to just about anyone and it would
look like an odd match. As Mellors points out, if he’d asked people
about the suitability of his pairing with Blamer they would have said he
was ’bloody mad’.
Smith is just getting his head around the task before him so if he
displays little of Mellors’ easy-going bonhomie it is not hard to see
After more than six months in the planning, last week Smith strode into
the office of Nigel Bogle, the BBH chief executive, to deliver his
’It felt very strange,’ Smith admits. ’But I’m not B, B or H and neither
am I second management. Yes, I was part of the original team, but not a
name over the door. That’s always going to be an issue. At BBH you never
really feel like you’re doing it yourself until you break away.’
Bogle’s reaction was supportive. ’He said, ’that’s a big job, mate, well
done’,’ Smith says. ’He wasn’t surprised at my choice of agency. Why
should he be? The only agency doing better than BBH at new business at
the moment is Grey and its reputation for improvement is better than you
Smith’s leaving date is yet to be confirmed but he is keen to get stuck
into his new job as soon as possible.
He says: ’I’m going to feel like the new boy at school. It is an unusual
situation when you work with a bunch of people for longer than the time
you spend at school and university. So it’s going to be odd, but
mentally I’m already at Grey.’
Grey has undergone an enormous period of change since the Mellors Reay
merger of December 1998. There is a very real sense from some of the
agency’s senior staff that, with Smith on board, things need to settle
Mellors is confident that the agency is making a lot more money than it
was a year ago and that the new-business drive is up to speed.
The focus for Smith will be on continuing to improve the agency’s
creative offering and lifting its profile within the industry.
’It’s not enough to have Tim here,’ Barbara Noakes, a creative director
at Grey who used to work with Smith at BBH, says. ’The chief executive
and the creative director are the two most important people in any
agency. Martin will have learned a very important lesson at BBH which is
that no-one in the agency should be able to get a cigarette paper
between those two people.
They have to be totally committed to each other otherwise you get into
the most appalling agency politics.’
She adds: ’Martin needs to push some great work on to some of the more
difficult clients here. But if he wants to come in and start making lots
of changes, he’ll have people throwing themselves out of the
Noakes is also confident that Smith and Mellors will complement each
’Martin is a great supporter, very calm and good around volatile,
She agrees, however, that Smith and Blamer are different. ’It’s like
asking me to describe the difference between an Englishman and an
American,’ she says. ’Steve is this huge Californian who’s very
decisive. Martin is more contemplative and sensitive.’
Eliciting personal information from Smith is not easy. Yes, he’s
Yes, he has children (two girls, aged 14 and 17) and he lives in Muswell
He seems reluctant, though, to expand on some of the more interesting
episodes from his past. His time as a member of the Footlights comedy
posse during his Cambridge days, for example, or the fact that he gets a
mention in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the author is a chum
from those days). Not to mention the TV scripts he has written for shows
such as Not the Nine O’Clock News.
Noakes says that Smith is not your typical adman - he is, she says, more
like the kind of bloke you wouldn’t mind having as a brother.
’He’s a real person. He is the kind of guy you’d be surprised to hear
had split up with his wife. He is not an obsessed adman.’
Smith makes the point early on in this interview that he’s not in a
position to talk about his brief in any great detail. For the time
being, he is happy to sit back and let Mellors get stuck into the more
Mellors says: ’We have to make the new Grey more externally focused.
That will be the big difference between Steve and Martin. Steve isn’t in
this market, he never was and he never wanted to be. Martin and I are
’I had to experience a culture change here and I will be able to guide
Martin in that. I found it incredibly difficult to think the Grey way; I
can’t think the Grey way because it’s not in my nature. But I can think
the new Grey way.’
Jerry Judge, the president of Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, worked
with Smith at BBH. He says Smith’s lack of input at this early stage
should not be construed as an indication that he will be easily dictated
’Staff at BBH are very low key and Martin is a child of that. He has
absorbed the way they do things. But he has been entrusted with some key
responsibilities there and in his own way he is tough.’
Judge says he was ’rocked’ by Smith’s decision to leave BBH. ’I thought
Martin was a real lifer. But the appointment makes a lot of sense. Grey
is at an interesting stage of its history. It needs a solid team to make
it work and become more modern - where better to go for that than
Although Mellors’ and Smith’s paths crossed briefly in the late 70s at
Saatchi & Saatchi, and although they have mutual friends, they are only
starting to get to know each other now.
’There is a real relief that the succession issue has been resolved,’
Mellors says. ’If I’d bought my dad in I think there would have been a
sense of relief. There was a fear here that we’d have a money management
person come in. But that’s not where we need to go.’
It will be interesting to watch the relationship between the two
develop, to see where the balance of power rests and who will emerge as
the new face of Grey.
’Where I come from, at BBH, account management, planning and creative
are all represented by the three people whose names are above the door,’
Smith says. ’But you can’t do that at an agency as old as Grey.’
Mellors adds: ’The truth about chemistry is that you never really know
until the first day when you sit there and you start doing the
However, despite warnings from colleagues who hinted that Smith might be
past his sell-by date, Mellors is happy that, in theory, they are the
’perfect partnership’. ’Although we might be too nice, too compatible,’
’I don’t think there has ever been a creative director who has been
whole-heartedly easy to work with,’ Smith adds. ’If they were, they
wouldn’t be successful.’