Grey reaps the rewards for taking brakes off creativity
A view from Claire Beale

Grey reaps the rewards for taking brakes off creativity

Until last week, the most thrilling thing to come out of Grey London was e-mail-gate (search Garry Lace on Campaignlive - God, this industry used to be a jaw-dropper).

Then, last week, "Life Paint" snared the agency two Grands Prix in Cannes and now there's a new (and this time respectable) reason why Grey has earned a place in the advertising history books.

"Life Paint" is not era-defining work. Mind you, nor was much else that took metal on the Croisette this year. And there were plenty of mutterings from rival agencies that it wasn’t a proper big creative idea. Ha! When other UK agencies are crowing (laughably) about picking up Lions for small projects for charities – and there were far, far too many of those; time for charities to have a separate category, I think – at least Grey won on behalf of a big client with work that made headlines.

Anyway, I don’t feel strongly about defending the "Life Paint" work; to me, it was a nice appropriation and smartly packaged. The point is: Grey got two of the biggest prizes on offer last week. Finally, Grey means something other than red-hot scandal and limp work. Finally, Grey is a place to be proud to work at – a place for winners. And, honestly, I never thought I’d write that.

We’re used to seeing fresh agencies ignite (Lucky Generals, anyone?). We’re used to seeing consistent quality from the best established agencies (into which we can now comfortably put Adam & Eve/DDB, the winner of the UK’s other Grand Prix, for John Lewis).

But for an old, moribund agency like Grey to so radically change its fortunes is a rare thing. If nothing else, it should give hope to – and trash the excuses of – the other old, moribund agencies in town (you know who you are).

Finally, Grey means something other than red-hot scandal and limp work. Finally, it is a place for winners

How much credit should go to the agency’s head of Europe, David Patton, or the former chief executive Chris Hirst, or the global chief, Jim Heekin, or the global creative lead, Tor Myhren, is hard to fathom. What matters most is that it has been implemented by creativity, by Nils Leonard and his team. Investing in creative talent, removing barriers to creatives’ effectiveness, diversifying the creative talent pool, giving Leonard chairmanship of the agency and basically liberating and championing creativity are the key to the revolution.

What’s also true, I think, is that it has taken someone with Leonard’s naïvety to pull it off. He hasn’t worked his way up through the biggest agencies in London, picking up cynical baggage along the way. He has arrived at the top of Grey free from many of the confining conventions of advertising creativity. That makes him harder to decode – easier, before this, to dismiss. But it also makes him see possibilities where others with more experience would have seen limits. We need more leaders like that.