WPP Merges AKQA and Grey to Form AKQA Group

It’s the third such move for the holding company in the past 2 years

grey logo on red background on left, akqa logo on black background on right
AKQA and Grey merged to form a new agency under WPP. Grey, AKQA

WPP’s creative agency Grey and digital marketing shop AKQA are set to merge.

According to an agency spokesperson, the setup begins effective today, and employees were made aware of the merger earlier today. The resulting organization will be known as AKQA Group and will have headquarters in London and New York. 

According to Mark Read, WPP CEO, Grey will fall under the AKQA Group banner and, as of now, will retain its name. AKQA CEO Ajaz Ahmed will take the CEO role while Grey CEO Michael Houston will become president and COO.

“We’re looking to better serve our clients, integrate our offer and future-proof our company,” Read told Adweek.

While both agencies have global scope, each brings very different propositions to the table. Grey, over a century old and Adweek’s 2015 Global Agency of the Year, is perceived as a more creatively-led legacy ad agency while AKQA is better known as one of the forebears of digital agencies specializing in service and products across the web, mobile and social.

According to Ahmed, the two mergers provided a roadmap and an opportunity to learn, especially “seeing the benefit to clients and people inside, getting access to more opportunities and the chance to learn different skills.”

There’s a scrappiness in the leadership there that I really liked. It was a ‘get shit done’ culture.

—Per Pedersen, founder, by The Network

“The thing that we’re learned—and it’s a cliché—but this is a ‘people business,'” added Houston. “When your people align to a vision and shared ambition, everything else becomes that much easier.”

He also noted that the pandemic has enhanced the agencies’ ability to collaborate more seamlessly.

The combined entity will employ around 6,000 people across more than 50 countries, with a client roster that WPP claims includes over half of Fortune 500’s top 20. Read noted that both agencies are of similar size and have complementary clients, capabilities and strong creative cultures.

“Our collective size gives us the opportunity to reshape and reimagine what our industry could represent,” said Ahmed. “[It also puts] a sense of excitement back into our industry, and we couldn’t be more excited about the unification.”

As of now, nothing changes, including the Grey brand name, which falls under the new setup. But that could likely shift over time. “Nothing disappears on day one,” Read said. “But, over time, we’ll bring the companies closer together.”

The creation of AKQA Group follows the merger of four other WPP agencies in 2018 under the stewardship of Read, who replaced Martin Sorrell in September 2018. That same month, VMLY&R was created when WPP merged creative agency Y&R and digital shop VML. In late November 2018, Wunderman Thompson was created after WPP merged traditional shop J. Walter Thompson with digital network Wunderman.

At the time, Read said the merger was part of the holding company’s efforts to build a “new, simpler WPP that provides clients with a fully integrated offering and easy access to our wealth of talent and resources.”

How the new agency can succeed

The hookup of the two agencies is a logical move that addresses what the market is looking for, according to Per Pedersen, founder of independent agency by The Network. Pedersen was previously a long-tenured creative leader in various roles at the agency, including global creative chairman at Grey Group.

“[The merger of the two agencies] is obvious,” he said, also noting that the conversation about bringing the two together has been discussed for years.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.
@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
@saramayspary sara.spary@adweek.com Sara Spary is a freelance journalist based in London. She's been a reporter for eight years, covering advertising and consumer brands.