Grey's Anatomy

After five years at the helm, Tor Myhren has led the New York office to colorful acclaim

Grey’s creative renaissance isn’t limited to new accounts. Procter & Gamble’s Febreze, which arrived in 1998, long relied on straightforward product demonstrations. Then came the inspired idea of blindfolding consumers and placing them in a stinky environment made fragrant by Febreze. The “Breathe Happy” campaign, developed under creative directors Rob Lenois and Rob Perillo, broke in July 2011 and won two 2012 Cannes Lions.

Grey’s success on these and other campaigns, including ads for P&G’s CoverGirl featuring Ellen DeGeneres and a Canon campaign with filmmaker Ron Howard, triggered Myhren’s promotion to president in December 2010—one year after he initially turned down the job, thinking he wasn’t ready. This time, he felt confident, even outlining what he’d like to do in a four-page memo he presented to Heekin.

Despite his mettle, Myhren admits that when he assumed the president’s role at age 38, he struggled to find common ground with account executives. He knew managing business was a Grey strength, but he wasn’t sure how to motivate the folks in suits who focus primarily on marketer relationships.

To better understand their world, Myhren began meeting with account teams, giving each of them 18 minutes to tell the story of its brand. It took a year to complete the first cycle, and now he’s in Round 2. On a recent Friday afternoon, Myhren listens and takes notes as a trio of account execs from the agency’s Grey Healthy People unit brief him on Bausch & Lomb, a client of two years with a $20 million annual media spend. First, he sets the timer on his iPhone, placing it flat on the table in the same breakout room where he’d traded baby ideas with Holmes.

While a proposed TV ad for a new vitamin to enhance eye health is testing well, the strategy behind it—“Be a champion for your eyes” goes the tagline—is more functional than aspirational. Also, the ad is heavy on graphics and relies on a voiceover. Without being too critical, Myhren tells the team the execution “feels like it’s from the ’90s or ’80s,” chuckling to ease any tension. He says he’ll talk to the unit’s creative director and thanks the execs for finishing on time, with a minute and half to spare.

Clearly, Grey’s creative turnaround is a work in progress. So far, only a half-dozen campaigns have become famous at a WPP Group shop handling some 75 brands. And while New York won nine Lions at Cannes this year, up from three in 2011, Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland, Ore., headquarters scooped up 29 trophies, earning Agency of the Year.

Still, Myhren has put Grey New York on the map in his five years as CCO. It’s the longest stint thus far in his 17-year ad career, which began at a small agency in Denver (Karsh Hagan), then shifted to Los Angeles (WongDoody, TBWAChiatDay) and Detroit (Leo Burnett) before bringing him to New York.

His success at Grey has triggered other offers, including the chief creative officer’s role at TBWACD’s Playa del Rey, Calif., office that The Martin Agency’s John Norman filled in July. After briefly considering the opportunity, Myhren turned it down, deciding that New York, where he recently bought an apartment, feels like the best home for him, his wife Tomoko and their nearly 18-month-old daughter Reika. As Myhren puts it, “I do feel like I’m finally in a place in my advertising career where I’m really happy where I am.”­