PERSPECTIVE: Small victories at Grey help bring the agency up to date

Last week was April Fools Day but which one of the following was an April fool? Was it the new press work for Batchelors’ Slim a Soup, which teaches diet-obsessed young women how to become instant ’soupamodels’? Was it my meeting with Tim Mellors and Steve Blamer, newly installed as creative and management chiefs at Grey London, in which they outlined their plans for a creative renaissance at the agency which is still tarnished with the reputation as London’s dullest big shop? Or was it our story about the Government laying plans to introduce the Euro as standard currency for all advertising transactions?

Last week was April Fools Day but which one of the following was an

April fool? Was it the new press work for Batchelors’ Slim a Soup, which

teaches diet-obsessed young women how to become instant ’soupamodels’?

Was it my meeting with Tim Mellors and Steve Blamer, newly installed as

creative and management chiefs at Grey London, in which they outlined

their plans for a creative renaissance at the agency which is still

tarnished with the reputation as London’s dullest big shop? Or was it

our story about the Government laying plans to introduce the Euro as

standard currency for all advertising transactions?



Well, you’ll all have spotted that the Euro story was a complete and

utter pack of lies. Perhaps the genuine Slim a Soup campaign - complete

with its doodled art direction, launch date of 1 April and cut-out Cindy

Crawford mole - had some of you worried for a while. But the real teaser

for me was that meeting at Grey. It’s not that I’d suggest that an

agency can’t reinvent itself - look what Andrew Cracknell did in the 80s

to spice up Dorlands - but it’s just that ... er ... Grey as a creative

powerhouse, it’s a bit odd, innit?



In fact, Grey London is now in that interesting period when there’s a

yawning gulf between the agency’s opinion of its achievements and that

held by the rest of the industry. The agency is excited about getting

more daring work out of Mars on the Ripple, Starburst, Milky Way and

Galaxy brands. It’s managed to cast a more classy-looking woman in a

Pantene ad. And it’s even succeeded in making the obligatory Pedigree

Chum Crufts spot a lot less cheesy than usual.



Small victories, perhaps. But hugely significant for a place like Grey

which was historically cast as the London agency that seemed hell-bent

on ignoring the fact it operates in the most creative advertising market

on the planet. This peccadillo was typified when, back in 1992, Grey

named eight joint creative chiefs as successors to the executive

creative director, Mike Cozens, when he left to try his hand at

directing. It was a reversal of the traditional creative hierarchy and

proof that, as long as the balance sheet told the right story, the old

Grey was happy to zig when others zagged. Now, under Mellors’ creative

lead, Grey feels more focused.



There is a limit to how far it can go, of course, because Grey’s local

business is dwarfed by a roster of multinational clients that rivals

would kill for. In theory, Grey London wants to be the kind of agency

that has the luxury of challenging its people to do the best they can.

Unfortunately, like all theories, this is liable to come unstuck in

practice. It has to challenge them to do the best they can within the

rigid constraints of the Procter & Gamble or Mars rule-book. But even

expressing such principles in a network which is otherwise renowned for

what is euphemistically called pragmatism, means that Grey London is

definitely one to watch.



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