Agency of the Year 2014

Big Account Wins Make Grey the 2013 Global Agency of the Year

Strategic and creative renaissance under CEO Jim Heekin

Photo: Jeremy Goldberg

Even a confident Jim Heekin admits that waiting for the Gillette decision from Procter & Gamble was a nail-biter.

As the Grey Group CEO sat in his fourth-floor office overlooking New York’s Madison Square Park one day last April, surrounded by his top execs leading the pitch, he knew he was about to receive a call that had no assurance of good news. It had been an arduous, 178-day, round-the-clock effort, with all the twists and turns befitting 2013’s most coveted review—one for a $1 billion brand that had been at BBDO and its forbearers for more than 80 years.

The Gillette pitch began last fall in the basement of a New York hotel, the agency’s global headquarters at 200 Fifth Avenue having been temporarily shuttered due to Hurricane Sandy. The process came to an end amid an uncertain, last-minute decision to substitute the initial creative concept. Heekin turned off the speakerphone after the client shared the good news that afternoon, and anxiety turned to hugs and celebratory drinks. The review, with the initial scope of North American business, was expanded to a global brief based on the strength of Grey’s creative ideas. After the win, none other than Martin Sorrell—chief of the agency’s parent, WPP, and someone who’d never before visited Heekin’s office—showed up toting two shopping bags filled with magnum bottles of champagne and hats embossed with the Gillette brand name.

Gillette would be enough to make any agency’s year, but P&G’s vote of confidence meant even more. Global networks struggle to reinvent themselves as something more than dots on the map. Meanwhile, Heekin, in his eight years at the helm, has had the thankless task of forcing change upon one of the most hidebound of shops. And under his watch, the 96-year-old company, built on account managers’ ownership of client relationships under the autocratic management of former CEO Ed Meyer, has, in fact, succeeded in radically altering the way it operates. Key to the Gillette win, for example, was collaboration among Grey’s offices, including those in New York and London. “This never would have happened five to six years ago,” says Heekin. “We’ve broken down walls, fiefdoms, rivalries between London, New York and other parts of the world. Gillette came at the perfect time to leverage the one-agency, one-team culture we’ve built.”

What’s more, Grey prevailed against the likes of P&G’s top agencies, including Wieden + Kennedy, which transformed the CPG giant’s Old Spice brand. Significantly, the strength of Grey’s ideas won the day, with Gillette opting to run the very work pitched during the review. “It’s rare that that happens, almost unheard of,” explains Tor Myhren, Grey’s worldwide chief creative officer.

Still, at one point during the pitch, even Myhren had his doubts that would happen.

Continue to next page →

Adweek Blog Network