OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Is Grey's Garry Lace living up to his hefty price tag?

A year ago I wrote a column in which I said Garry Lace was leaving TBWA for Grey for 800,000 reasons, and all with the Queen's head on them.

Next Wednesday is the first anniversary of what has been seen as the Lace Revolution, a word defined by the dictionary as the forcible overthrow of a ruler. But though Ed Meyer is still firmly in charge in New York, Lace's tenure in London can reasonably be described as revolutionary.

A year is too short a period on which to base a definitive assessment, but now seems the right moment to ask: what has Garry done for Grey?

That ill-judged job swap idea aside, he has got through his first 12 months pretty well. Even his critics cannot fault Lace's energy and chutzpah on hirings. With Dave Alberts as the creative director, Nicola Mendelssohn heading new business, Dylan Jones as the head of planning and Chris Hirst as the managing director, he's lured talent from admired agencies and in a comparatively short time.

The question is whether this transition team is stable for the long term, an organic part of the rest of Grey, or simply perched atop it in a golden (quite literally) escape module. Inevitably, many people have been paid off and asked to take their personal effects and hurt feelings elsewhere as soon as possible.

Those that remain, however, must surely have a sense that Grey has accelerated off the plateau and up into a different league.

There are bigger and better opportunities at this level, and key to the optimism is new business, the factor that ultimately determines success or failure. Comparing Grey's new-business record for the year leading up to Lace's arrival with the last year, we see substantial changes, culminating in the win of a chunk of AOL business last week. In the pre-Lace period, Grey's pitches were bitty, international or from existing clients. The past 12 months have seen Grey pitching for clients from those three areas, plus Batchelors, McCain, Royal Mail, Intelligent Finance, AOL and others.

No wonder people mutter darkly of luring clients through the door with loss leader remuneration tactics.

The greatest imponderable, chewed over endlessly, is the creative output.

A generous look at the Grey reel over the past year lingers on Nokia, Utterly Butterly, the Remington shaver press ads, two interesting TV ads for Flash and a tactical press ad for the same brand showing David Blaine's missus cleaning his glass home with Flash after a barrage of eggs.

No step-change in the creative output, then, and by implication no bold planning leaps in a year. Clearly, Grey's financial bedrock remains Procter & Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline and Mars. But these things take time. In Alberts, who spoke at the recent Campaign Creative Conference, I predict that Lace has found the perfect creative director. Looking for all the world like a mad new chemistry teacher, he used dry ice and chemicals to illustrate the effect of the influx of non-Brits into the UK creative mix. His biggest gripe was clear: that resistance to change is adland's biggest threat.

His proposed solutions were fresh and radical.

So much for Lace's record as an adman. Let us look at him as a man. He still jokes. He has fun. More adroit at politics than he lets on, he throws lavish parties and invites all his mates and his rivals too. He's a strong, polarising, optimistic character in a business ravaged by recession. He's rapidly acquiring the reputation as the only flamboyant chief executive in London's big agencies. Of course, this is only the beginning, and of course the process is still capable of being derailed but good luck to him, I say.


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