Editorial: Grey needs to redefine its role in the WPP family

If you are looking for omens concerning Jim Heekin's appointment as the head of the Grey network, here are two for starters: his apartment is just four blocks from Grey's Manhattan HQ; he was born in Cincinnati, just like Grey's most important client, Procter & Gamble.

Make of this what you will.

Nevertheless, the appointment of James R Heekin III as the chairman and chief executive of Grey Worldwide will take some getting used to, not least for Heekin himself, who now has the delicate task of preserving the best of the legacy bequeathed to him by Grey's septuagenarian patriarch, Ed Meyer, while defining its new role in the WPP family.

Meyer has been a mixed blessing to Grey: on one hand, he has created a network with high levels of account handling competence. On the other, his management style - playing internal leadership candidates against each other - has created a political culture where senior managers try to "please Ed" rather than serve Grey's greater good.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the WPP chief executive, knows this has to change.

In Heekin, he has a tough operator who can deliver that change. He'll certainly be motivated, not wishing a repeat of the circumstances that clouded his exit from both McCann Erickson Worldgroup and Euro RSCG.

However, Heekin will have to make tough decisions - Grey's mature senior management will need pruning. He will need to cut local offices more slack, too, to achieve a better balance of local and multinational business.

Above all, the question of how Grey and WPP can get the best out of each other must be resolved. Grey could become the WPP "workhorse", handling big, complex but creatively undemanding clients. An easy option, but wrong - no-one will settle for bland creative any more, nor accept being shoehorned into a network they see as second-best.

Grey needs to focus and exploit the pragmatic approach to creativity that has served it well. If it can, it may prove a valuable asset in Sorrell's quest for more P&G business or for global accounts that conflict renders otherwise elusive.