Stormy waters at WPP’s (AKQA) Grey

Most of WPP CEO Mark Read’s creative agency mergers seem to have gone reasonably well although VMLY&R, apparently performing well in the US, still sounds lumpy.

Folding Grey (not so long ago quite a jewel in the WPP crown on both sides of the Atlantic) into AKQA Group (as opposed to creating AKQA/Grey) seems to be hitting choppier waters.

Now Justine Armour, CCO at Grey New York, is leaving hard on the heels of global creative chairman and president John Patroulis (both below.)

In June WPP announced that Grey CEO Michael Houston (he wasn’t CEO of AKQA Group though, that’s Ajaz Ahmed’s job) was becoming president of WPP’s (substantial) North America business although it was careful to say that he would “assist AKQA Group CEO, Ajaz Ahmed, with the transition to new leadership at Grey and will continue as a member of the WPP Executive Committee. As part of his new role, Michael will also serve as WPP’s Executive Sponsor for P&G.”

One doubts, somehow, that such assistance was intended to put Patroulis and Armour on their bikes.

P&G is Grey’s biggest client and the reason that Sir Martin Sorrell bought it in the first place, a neat way of handling competing P&G and Unilever (a cornerstone Ogilvy client) in the the same holding company empire

Grey has had its travails in London too: losing bosses David Patton, Nils Leonard, Chris Hirst and Vicki Maguire among several others for various reasons and in fairly short order.

Holding company creative agencies are undergoing a pretty painful transformation as they’re hit by reducing margins and a talent drain as well as the machinations of their owners, desperately trying to make them do more with less.

Is a rebrand to AKQA/Grey a first step in restoring Grey to something of its former eminence?

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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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