Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Each morning as I walk to work past 777 Third Avenue and 49th Street, I cannot help but thinking that Grey is no longer there. Somehow, it seems empty as I walk past.
Grey was a wonderful and peculiar agency. While it became one of the icons of the business, it never achieved the kind of respect from the advertising community it deserved. Perhaps it was because through all its years, Grey was an account person’s agency, despite its protestations to the contrary. And it was always that way, even during the heyday of the creative revolution of the sixties and seventies.
Grey was an enigma. While many people who went there hated it, it had, perhaps, the greatest employee retention of any advertising agency. I believe there were more people there who worked there longer than any other agency. I knew an assistant account executive who went there to work on General Foods (before Kraft). She came from Wells, Rich, Greene where she worked on an airline account. Every other week she called me to get her out. I begged her to stay to get the package goods training she needed. After about three months of these calls, I told her to stop swimming upstream; Grey was Grey and would never be Wells. Then one day the calls stopped. She retired from Grey some fifteen years later to raise a family. She had become a senior vice president. Her last call to me was to thank me for enabling her to stay at an agency she came to love.
Was Grey right for everyone? Absolutely not. I knew that the people who went to Grey fell into three groups – a third would hate it and leave in under two years; another third would be ambivalent and stay for two or more years. The final third would go to Grey and stay forever. The problem is that I never knew which group anyone fell into. Incidentally, I am not sure that those thirds are any different than at any of the big ad agencies. It is just that people who left Grey took delight in knocking it.
And in the meanwhile their clients stayed. No agency trained its people to service its clients better. And the clients stayed because their work was acceptable to them.
The problem was the business looked down its nose at Grey.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the opening party at the new Grey offices in the Toy building on 23rd Street. Grey today is a different agency. It is bringing in new accounts. It has dramatically cleaned house. It is winning new business and has not lost any business in quite a while. It seems to have retained the essence of its ability to service clients and combined it with a renewed sense of creativity and purpose.
And suddenly, people are no longer looking down their noses at Grey.
So, here is to the new Grey. May it succeed and flourish. And build on its heritage. But I will still miss the old Grey.
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