CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE - Grey can no longer continue to simply play it by the book

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 eat.’

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.


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