Five years ago, who would have imagined a time when Grey would be crowned Campaign’s Advertising Network of the Year? Yet here we are. The network, which wags have claimed since time immemorial was eponymous, has been on a transformational journey over the past few years. In 2014, it really hit its stride.
Grey enjoyed its seventh year of record financial and creative performance worldwide. Revenues increased 5 per cent to $761 million, with operating profit up 15.3 per cent. And the network retained its top ranking in revenue growth against its sister agencies Ogilvy & Mather, JWT and Y&R, according to the latest WPP benchmarks.
The growth was achieved through a mixture of new business ($740 million across the network) and expansion of existing client relationships – revenue from its top 20 clients increased by an average of 14 per cent year on year. This included its biggest client, Procter & Gamble, up by 10 per cent; HSBC (a newish client), up by 90.9 per cent; Hasbro, up by 218.3 per cent; and Kellogg, up by 20.4 per cent.
It was a strong performance across Grey’s geographical territories. For example, the network picked up business from Sony and Ferrero in Mexico, De’Longhi in Japan, Adidas in Spain, Ikea in Denmark, Braun in Turkey, Tigo Telecom in Colombia, Electrolux in Indonesia and Maybank in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, on the global stage, the network run by the chairman and chief executive, Jim Heekin, claimed three major global wins: Volvo, Symantec and Papa John’s.
Aside from the financial metrics, the network delivered some outstanding creative across a spectrum of clients and channels.
Grey was D&AD’s most-awarded agency globally, with 19 accolades across eight different campaigns. It also won 35 awards at the 2014 Cannes Lions from 11 countries: five golds, nine silvers, 20 bronzes and one Titanium. Grey was also the most-awarded North American agency at Cannes.
The London office was one of the drivers behind Grey’s turnaround story. This year, it was the most-awarded UK shop at D&AD, and named the IPA Effectiveness Agency of the Year and Direct Agency of the Year at the Campaign Big Awards.
Under the leadership of the chief executive, Chris Hirst, and the chairman and chief creative officer, Nils Leonard, it has invested in an open culture, scrapping the sign-off process, removing offices and stopping departments from working in silos.
The agency’s output for The Times and The Sunday Times was exceptional. Its series of print ads featuring fat cats looking like Sir Elton John, Simon Cowell and Sir Richard Branson is considered among the best creative work from the UK this year. The clever "icons" spot also earned plaudits.
Grey London also launched three global campaigns in 2014: "it’s never just business" for HSBC, "the swell" for Volvo and "100 years of hair" for Gillette.
Meanwhile, the New York office scored a Titanium Lion at Cannes for its "unload your 401k" film for the anti-gun-violence organisation Campaign to Unload. The moving film featured families who have lost loved ones to gun violence and encouraged viewers to check whether their pension plan was being invested in gun companies.
Grey New York also developed an amusing campaign for DirecTV with Rob Lowe playing a "super-creepy" version of himself. The office played a big part in Grey North America’s haul of $370 million in new business, including Häagen-Dazs, Nestlé and Norton.
Grey’s Latin America businesses pulled in an additional $45 million and grew their digital revenue by 14 per cent, while the Argentine office was the third-most-awarded in the network at Cannes. Its acquisition of Circus to create Circus Grey in Peru created the biggest agency in the region.
Not to be outdone, Grey’s European operations, run by David Patton, attracted $195 million in new business, with a broad range of work including an impressive year-long project by its Paris office, which created an interactive personalised online game to promote Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4 release.
Grey Asia-Pacific picked up $130 million from clients including Pfizer, Pringles and Pantene. Its Bangladesh office created an inspired piece of work for Coca-Cola called "happiness arcade" that encouraged Dhaka residents to recycle by installing arcade machines that were powered by plastic bottles.
Overall, 2014 was a triumphant year for the network, which, through a conscious effort, has brought itself back from the brink of irrelevancy and revitalised its old stuffy image. Long may it continue.
Recent winners: Ogilvy & Mather (2013); DDB Worldwide (2012); BBDO Worldwide (2011); Wieden & Kennedy (2010); DDB Worldwide (2009)