Caroline Pay’s move from London agency to LA brand hasn’t been driven by a desire for an easier life – in fact she’s hungry for the challenge of smaller budgets and below-the-line strategies in a company that epitomises purpose.
Many were agog when it emerged Pay would be leaving her post as joint chief creative officer of Grey London last week (31 May). Together with Vicki Maguire she had formed a reputation for killing it on conference stages, managing some of the biggest creative accounts in the UK and devoting time to mentorships and pro bono projects on the side, and while the industry prayed that more would follow their lead as leading females, it also hoped this particular pair would reign for a while, at least.
Pay thought they would too, up until she took her son on holiday to California earlier this year. It was only when she stopped by her friend’s Santa Monica offices to merely blag a free wifi connection that a serious job offer landed in front of her; the friend was Rich Pierson, the co-founder of chief executive of Headspace, and the job was chief creative officer.
“He turned up at my house and just pitched me what he thought was this incredibly important role that Headspace was now big enough and ugly enough to need,” Pay recalls. “I just hadn’t thought about leaving Grey because I love Grey, I love my job and I love working so closely with Vicki.
“But by the time Rich had finished talking to me about the opportunity and I got on the plane back to London, [it felt like] a no brainer pretty much by the time I landed.”
Pay is no stranger to the brand, having known Pierson from her days at BBH and offering impromptu advice to the meditation app’s co-founders throughout its eight years in business. She’s also a true believer in what it stands for (it’s sole mission is ‘to improve the health and happiness of the world’) as the self-confessed “queen of self-help”, and a leader that’s previously had flirtations with the idea of going client side. Headspace was one of few opportunities that would satisfy her “balance of creativity for business and creativity for good”.
When Pay takes up the role in September it will be the first time the brand has had a chief creative officer on staff. After a period of rapid growth followed by a raft of marketing redundancies last year the startup is looking for someone to regroup the business creatively, champion its brand vision for the future and develop a solid in-house marketing department.
“Before I begin I’m going to be looking at all of the [brand’s] live assets because I think there is a tangible, instant job to do in terms of curating everything that’s out there, where we’ve been and where we can go to next,” she says. “And then I think my first 100 days will be about getting to know the talent in the building. I need to understand where the strengths and the weaknesses are, and I’ve got so many incredible people I’ve worked with over the years that I can bring in to experiment with where we want to take the brand next.”
Pay’s remit is broad-ranging and officially encompasses digital, experiential, traditional advertising and PR. She has no plans to overhaul the brand that’s already been built and has a real affection its “very simple, very down to earth, very warm” tone of voice.
“I think we can now evolve that and ... make it more robust, more famous and make it mean more to more people,” she explains. “There’s a certain joy to everything to do with the brand that I think is really valuable and I’d love to experiment more with how enjoyable it is to interact with.”
This experimentation, she asserts, is very unlikely to include above the line. In a world away from Grey’s clients with their six-figure budgets, Headspace’s marketing will “not be about a 30-second TV ad”.
“I don’t have any intention of us doing any above the line communications because we’re a new, fresh different brand and the way we talk and the space that we talk to people in have to be different and surprising and new,” Pay explains. “I would be surprised if a traditional TV ad is the answer to get people inspired and excited to be more involved – it’s an experience brand.”
And in a world away from rainy Clerkenwell, Pay will be without Maguire. She’s not worried about working without a partner (she did so for 15 years) but she is fiercely confident their relationship will endure across eight time zones.
“My partnership with Vicki will live on outside of these four walls, which is very important for us and our legacy at Grey – that we can continue to be role models for creative leadership,” she says. “We genuinely believe this is still the beginnining of our partnership, in terms of speaking at events and writing a book together.
“I don’t imagine I’ll ever be without Vicki in my heart.”