AKQA’s Grey sets sail on a new course under Laura Maness

Eight days ago we wrote about “stormy water at Grey” as the WPP-owned agency, now part of AKQA Group, lost a raft of senior executives. When one always asks: is disaster looming or was it deliberate? Or, as is often the case, elements of both.

Most agencies would have responded and silence and, eventually, sulks. Others with ridiculous menaces. AKQA, always a class act, said “fair enough” but watch this space.

The space has been filled, to an extent at least, by the hire of Laura Maness (above) as Grey’s new global CEO. We reported this morning that she’d left Havas, which has taken the rather bizarre decision to fold its creative business into Health.

Maness says: “As only the sixth CEO in 105 years, the opportunity to renew, galvanize and grow a legendary and celebrated agency like Grey — combined with the unmatched calibre of talent from across the globe — is incredibly meaningful. I look forward to building on the strong foundation of Grey’s storytelling prowess and famously effective work by fuelling a culture of creativity, innovation, and continuous impact.”

AKQA Group CEO Ajaz Ahmed says: “Laura is entrepreneurial, dynamic and energetic. She unites by building community — not hierarchy — inspiring with an enlightened leadership approach and a proven track record. With a focus on innovation and as a champion of multidisciplinary solutions for clients, Laura is the ideal CEO to help shape Grey’s strategic vision and path ahead. I am looking forward to working in partnership with Laura and the team at Grey.”

We’ve commented here before that it seemed odd for WPP to put AKQA, a world-leading digital agency that roams far wider than ads, together with Grey, a Madison Avenue staple, not usually known for its creativity. That changed for a few years with Jim Heekin at the helm, Tor Myhren (now Apple’s creative supremo), Nils Leonard in London and a raft of capable executives, one of whom Chris Hirst has also recently left Havas. Might Hirst find his way back to Grey?

AKQA founder and boss Ahmed is adamant that that the best way to preserve an agency brand is not to muddy it in a forced merger, because the weaker of the two just ebbs away. Grey as a brand within AKQA is much stronger, he thinks.

Maness is a big call but Ahmed seems energised by the prospects at Grey. He’s defied the odds successfully before, most notably by surviving the Sir Martin Sorrell years at the WPP helm in one piece and with reputation intact.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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