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

Last December, Grey showed Gillette an ad it had worked up featuring parts of a speech by Al Pacino as coach Tony D’Amato in the film Any Given Sunday, and it was well received. But a couple of months later, Jeep rolled out a Grand Cherokee spot using the same speech. So, it was back to the drawing board—just two weeks before the final presentation. It worked. “They brought us a big idea on Gillette, which we know will connect with men around the world,” says Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global brand building officer. “Grey knows consumers and knows brands. Grey knows how to create winning campaigns.”

“Winning campaign” has taken on new meaning at an agency long known for its bland work. The New York flagship has worked aggressively to change that perception since Myhren was hired as chief creative officer in 2007. Grey’s creative ranks now number about 320, up from just fewer than 70 when he arrived. Top hires this year came from agencies such as Anomaly, TBWAChiatDay and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

This year, the agency had its best showing ever at Cannes, taking home 36 Lions. Grey also won nine Cannes film prizes, more than any other agency; snagged an Emmy for the Canon spot “Inspired”; and was the first agency ever to make the shortlist for the Academy Awards for When You Find Me, a short film for Canon’s Project Imaginat10n that Ron Howard using 1,000 user-generated photos. (The associated online effort generated 1.5 billion impressions in a matter of months without the support of a single commercial.)

Even Sorrell, WPP’s bottom line-focused CEO, enthuses about the creative overhaul. In a video addressing a Grey Group conference in Beijing this year, Sorrell stated that “revenue and profits have grown because Grey’s creative reputation has grown.”

This year, Grey’s global revenue grew 10 percent to $725 million, with digital—barely a part of Grey’s business six years ago—now accounting for some $150 million. Aside from Gillette, global account wins include Volvo, HSBC, GSK Corp., Trilux and Montblanc. Grey New York, which won 20 of its 22 major account pitches, posted an 18 percent revenue bump. The U.S. flagship won back Hasbro, Allergan, and Pfizer’s Advil and ThermaCare business and added a global corporate campaign from Canon while attracting new clients like Pfizer and GE Healthcare.

Grey London was another top performer this year. In addition to the recent win as Volvo’s worldwide creative lead, the office was also behind the pitch of HSBC’s retail and wealth business in Europe and Latin America, and global commercial business. It also led a global corporate branding campaign for GSK and a worldwide assignment from Vodafone.

And China, in its first full year under a new CEO, well-known regional adman T.H. Peng, has attracted major local clients like dairy Mengniu and cosmetics marketer Proya. In the past five years, Grey has doubled its revenue in the Asia-Pacific region. Now, it turns its focus to Latin America with Grey Brazil, created by the merger of the WPP agencies 141 and Y&R Energia.

The agency continues to add to digital hubs in New York and London, as well as at its offices in Spain, Russia, China, India and Argentina. This year, it won new digital business from P&G, 3M, Hasbro, Coca-Cola, Darden, Marriott, Lilly and GSK. Grey also continues to roll out a strategic partnership with WPP interactive company Possible Worldwide. Separately, it completed digital acquisitions in Germany, Turkey, Singapore and China.

When Myhren came to Grey, there were fewer than a dozen digital staffers in New York. Now, there are 180. Its digital focus is apparent in work like “Football on Your Phone,” a rap video for DirecTV featuring the pigskin-tossing Manning brothers. The digital effort immediately became a viral sensation, earning 7 million views in a single week plus free exposure by the likes of ESPN. Grey’s spots for DirecTV featuring frustrated cable subscribers—which Bill Clinton described as the “most hilarious ads” he’d ever seen—continue to win fans, including Cannes judges. The campaign’s latest iteration won three gold Lions this year.

Hilarious, yes. But Paul Guyardo, chief revenue and marketing officer at DirecTV, stresses that Grey’s approach to his business is nothing but serious. Grey staff have visited DirecTV’s call centers, for example, and Guyardo has been invited to the agency to explain the company’s high-pressure subscription business.

“Working with Grey has been the best relationship in my 30-year career,” says Guyardo, a former agency exec. “We don’t refer to them as the agency; their team and my team are one. When the work comes out great, it’s because of that collaboration, and when it doesn’t, it’s because of that collaboration. We give them plenty of freedom and they take advantage of it.”

The Gillette win not only grabbed headlines, but it also changed the way clients perceive the agency. “Gillette really was a redefining moment,” says Michael Houston, CEO, North America. “It demonstrated what today’s Grey was about in terms of the way we work, approach problems, and the fact we’re more integrated and collaborative than we’ve ever been. That’s why clients like Hasbro now view us that way, and came to us as a fully integrated, multidisciplinary agency where the lines are blurred.”

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