Grey’s new senior team interview: Inside the agency’s plan for the future post-Grexit

Inside Grey’s plan for the future post-Grexit.

As Grey’s new management team settles in, The Drum talks to those tasked with replacing the Grexit trio about how they plan on doing things their way.

To say it’s been a testing month for Grey London would be an understatement. The high of Cannes to the furore of the referendum vote, quickly followed by the shock departures of its senior team, would suggest the agency might pause for breath. And yet it’s doing the opposite; led by chief executive Leo Rayman, a new look management team is already in place formulating what will be the agency’s next phase of growth in digital and data.

The Drum caught up with Rayman alongside Wayne Brown and Matt Tanter, who step into the roles of chief operating officer and chief strategy officer respectively for their thoughts on achieving a richer talent mix, new payment models and why technology and data are both key to the agency’s future

The Drum: Since the management change, it’s been clear that the agency is going to be making changes to its offering and the way it works. How do you plan on making such changes while also not losing sight of what makes Grey Grey?

Rayman: “This is exactly what makes Grey Grey. We are always restless and urgent, because if you go to bed thinking that you’ve cracked it, you’re probably half way to failure. Everyone in the agency shares this feeling. It’s deep in our DNA and that's why we turned this business around - we're open to new ways of doing things, we always think like the underdog and we believe that energy and determination win in the end.”

Brown: “We are always trying to find better and more innovative ways to tackle problems, which of course extends to the challenges facing our own business. To continue making work that creates powerful cultural impact, you need to upgrade and invest continuously - new skills, new talent, new services. Three years ago Snapchat was just known for dick pics and no one in our business was thinking about AI. The only way to respond is to be open. Embracing that change is the nature of the business we’re in. Ignore it at your peril.”

The Drum: How do you plan on getting clients to come round to new ways of working, especially when it comes to changing the way you charge for work – do you think that could have an impact on new business?

Brown: “Many clients are desperate to change the way they incentivise and get value out of their agency partners. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s commoditised - it can be hard to start charging differently for that – but there are many ways to reframe the value that an agency can bring and the ideas they are capable of generating beyond our current core product. If these will transform a client’s market share or even share price, of course they’re open to find a different way to value this input. It’s not for every client, but we’re working on a plan to achieve 40 per cent of non-traditional revenue by the end of 2017.”

Rayman: “We learnt a lot with Volvo LifePaint. A small innovation project using a dealer budget turned into one of the biggest marketing stories of the last two years. With the global roll out, we’ve realized a new commercial model based on sales of cans. When we made the iKitten app for McVitie’s, instead of giving away the IP, we licensed it to them. There are exciting projects in the offing on both Science Museum and GSK. It’s an experiment that is working.

“To accelerate this entrepreneurial approach and bring the same level of creativity to our business as we do to our work, we’ve recently given everyone commercial training. From account execs to creatives to heads of department, everyone understands how we currently make money and for how we could in the future. This empowers them to think differently and have different conversations.”

The Drum: How do you plan on making diversity a bigger part of Grey’s agenda – are you going to be introducing quotas or hiring from different places?

Brown: “Diversity isn’t just a buzz word at Grey, it’s at the heart of our business strategy. We know the world is changing (just look at the past three weeks!) and clients respond well when we offer a much wider diversity of creative output. The age of one size fits all is truly dead.

“And if you’ve got an open mind to the talent and skills you need, you also need an open door. So this isn’t just about partnering with or acquiring new businesses, it’s also about bringing different types of people into our company.

“At one level that’s people with different skills, or even people who have been in different industries, but it’s also very much about bringing people with different perspectives and backgrounds in. People who don’t fit the mould. Our open culture not only supports this, it needs this.”

Rayman: ”We’re against quotas. We have a genuine belief that diversity will make our agency better, more progressive, more creative and more adaptable for whatever comes next. Targets are useful to ensure you’re heading in the right direction but you still have to make the right hires.

“That said, we’re already the only agency in the UK beating both the IPA’s 2020 targets for women and BAME in senior positions. 33 per cent of our workforce had a career in another industry before working in the creative industries: entrepreneurs, lawyers, butchers, management consultants and finance to name a few. More than a third (35 per cent) of our workforce didn’t go to university and get a degree. Some 13 per cent of our employees don’t have English as their first language. We have 17 different mother tongues. While 80 per cent of our workforce grew up outside of London and 35 per cent grew up outside the UK. This is good, but it’s never enough.”

“To achieve a richer mix of talent, it’s not just about changing your hiring policies, it means casting your net wider. We need to reach as many people as possible and introduce the idea of a creative career to people who think it’s not for them or don’t even know anything about it.

“We removed barriers by taking education and even CV’s off entry-level recruitment three years ago, we hire apprentices, have programmes to support working parents, include male/female benchmarking in all reviews and are working on manager training in 'unconscious bias'.

“But we’re also growing our networks through a number of partnerships and initiatives such as the WPP micro fellowship for BAME grads, we’re also closing a deal with Code First: Girls to support women in tech through placements, later this year we’ll be going into schools and recording a primetime TV series about how to get into the industry. Bottom line, if you’re reading this and have a different start point, please come and talk to us.”

Tanter: “Diversity is a business imperative, not just the right thing to do. That’s patronising crap and those who diversify with that mentality are just quota chasers. Evolution is a necessity for businesses being disrupted. Therefore, diversity and collaboration are critical for agencies to produce ideas to fuel that evolution.

Secondly, diversity is about creating a magnetic culture that draws and embraces talent from completely different walks of life. Talent that is currently looking at the old school ad model and saying 'not interested’. The right culture offers them a chance to express themselves in their own way, whilst being part of something bigger.”

The Drum: Tech and innovation are such broad churches – what specific areas in each are you planning to double down?

Brown: “We are investing heavily in talent and technology - including a soon-to-be-announced data partnership - that can take our culture defining idea and impact individuals in a way that is unique, personal and ultimately changes their behaviour. Advertising is good at doing this when it’s great, but increasingly it’s not the only way we can help our clients make a difference in people’s lives. So while they are broad areas, we’re really just acknowledging that our palette is expanding. To continue your gambling analogy, we’re placing chips all around the board, because we believe this considered risk taking will ultimately benefit our clients and our business.”

Tanter: “A broad church it may be, but fundamentally it is about building a culture that discounts nothing at the start. It’s about embracing any form of technology that can help create ideas of cultural impact, colliding brand and user-centric thinking to do so.

Critically, we have to collapse transaction and a greater emphasis on the purchase and service experience, into this work. And it must all be driven by a desire for greater personalisation and smarter use of data to inspire creativity not just optimise performance.”

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