The most memorable piece of graffiti I ever saw compared wealth to
a shit sandwich: ’The more bread you have, the less crap you have to
Doubtless this philosopher of the streets never worked at Grey London or
met its soon to depart chairman, Roger Edwards - whose rewards from the
past 17 years would fill a baker’s van but who seems to have found too
much of the brown stuff between the thick wads for his taste.
For some time now, it has been evident that Edwards was growing
increasingly restless within a system where the pay cheques can be big
as long as you don’t buck it. For ’system’, read Ed Meyer - Grey’s
autocratic ruler for as long as anybody can remember, who has run the
network like the paterfamilias of an extended Jewish family but who is
not renowned for his tolerance of independent thought and spirit.
Preoccupation with the bottom line and an aversion to borrowing money
have always been Meyer’s guiding business principles, and they have
served Grey well for many years. The network has a bedrock of large and
loyal multinational clients and, even if Grey has rarely been a
repository of outstanding creative work, it has proved itself a
formidable money-making machine.
The downside is that Grey has bred a culture which is deeply suspicious
of change, stifles innovation and initiative and fails to offer the
stimulating environment in which top managers of the future can grow and
Meyer, it is said, has been the master puppeteer for so long that he
knows no other way and long-serving senior executives who rely on his
patronage are defensive. Not only does such a constraining environment
not attract the best talent, it actually repels it.
Grey looks like a throwback to the days when much business was awarded
and sustained through personal contacts between agency and
While such links remain important, the game has moved on.
The message is clear. Grey as a network cannot stay as it is. Meyer will
leave behind no obvious successor because most of the network’s top
executives are more used to managing clients than agencies and he may
have to consider merging or selling to plug the management gap. What a
sad situation for a group whose huge profits could have been used to put
it at the forefront of communications development and provide it with
the flexibility to face a changing marketplace.
Happily, there is a hint of a new dawn at Grey London since Steve Blamer
arrived from Los Angeles and installed Tim Mellors as his creative head.
Interesting work on Mars and Procter & Gamble (though it must be said
that Mellors’ predecessor, Paul Smith, started the P&G ball rolling with
Fairy Liquid) may herald a new will at the agency which has suffered for
too long under its ’Grey by name, Grey by nature’ curse.