WPP shop gets closer to P&G with Grey Midwest

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Possible in Cincinnati will become Grey Midwest.
Possible in Cincinnati will become Grey Midwest. Credit: Possible

Procter & Gamble Co. wants its agencies closer to home, and WPP's Grey is obliging by opening Grey Midwest in Cincinnati, combining the former Possible office there with new e-commerce, shopper and production operations.

As part of the move, being announced Wednesday, Grey will take over the Cincinnati office of Possible in P&G's hometown. Only last year, Possible was consolidated with sibling digital shop Wunderman, but the Cincinnati portion will now become the foundation of Grey Midwest.

Grey Midwest will start with 80 employees, mainly from Possible, which has handled P&G work for years but has seen that work ebb as more assignments moved to other cities in the network and P&G divested some brands. Possible was once among the largest ad agencies in Cincinnati, counting 30 P&G brands as clients, but it downsized in 2016 after losing accounts that included J.M. Smucker brands—some of them former P&G brands such as Folgers and Jif.

Tony Desjardins, who now heads Possible in Cincinnati, will become managing director of Grey Midwest, reporting to Debby Reiner, CEO of Grey New York. Reiner says Grey is looking to hire more people for the Cincinnati office.

The Grey Commerce operation, handling e-commerce and other shopper marketing work, brings back some capabilities from Grey's old G2 unit that were folded into WPP's consolidated shopper-marketing operation five years ago.

Combining with Possible in Cincinnati "makes a lot of sense, because we share a largest client," says Reiner. "We always collaborated a lot because of P&G."

Grey's Cincinnati office will also handle other clients based in the Midwest or West, including private-label drug marketer Perrigo (Allegan, Mich.) and lens maker Essilor (Dallas), plus some other packaged-goods and foodservice accounts.

Bringing Possible into Grey—and combining e-commerce, shopper and production capabilities—also helps in the numbers game as P&G continues to reduce the agency and marketing-services units it works with. Having already cut that number from 6,000 to 2,500 in recent years, the company is out to cut that number in half again by 2021, says Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, who last week praised efforts by Grey to co-locate people with P&G in Cincinnati as well as Guangzhou and London.

Townhouse, Grey's production arm, will open a 3,500-square-foot content studio alongside the current Possible operation in Cincinnati.

David Beals, president of consulting firm JLB & Partners, sees no clear trend toward agencies opening more shops to get closer to clients.

"Pardon the pun, but it's all over the map," Beals says. Some clients are going the opposite route, working with agencies well outside their headquarters and using electronic connectivity to bridge the gap, he says.

The best analog to what Grey is doing in Cincinnati, Beals says, may be the large collection of supplier representatives, including marketers and often agency personnel, around Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Similar groupings have increasingly popped up in recent years in Minneapolis around Target headquarters, Seattle around Amazon and Costco, and even Cincinnati around Kroger Co. headquarters.

The challenge, Beals says, can be attracting creative talent to offices outside major coastal cities. But Beals says Grey Midwest fits with the consolidation trend favored by many marketers.

"There is only so much time in the day to manage so many external resources," Beal says.

Other Midwestern cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis have long been home to a host of agencies with significant national reach. And Campbell-Ewald (Interpublic), Doner (MDC) and other shops focused on auto makers have long clustered in Detroit.

But besides Grey's new office, there aren't a lot of outposts of major national ad agencies in Cincinnati or nearby cities at this point. Barefoot Proximity, a unit of Omnicom's BBDO, is based in Cincinnati, and both Barefoot and BBDO continue to handle P&G assignments despite the latter losing Gillette and other P&G shaving brands to Grey in recent years.

WPP also owns Rockfish, with a Cincinnati office that's now part of the VML network, but it doesn't handle P&G work.

Otherwise, Cincinnati's largest marketing-services shops tend to be design firms such as independent LPK, Omnicom's Interbrand and WPP's Landor, driven in part by P&G work but also sometimes working for competitors. Empower, another of the larger shops in Cincinnati, is an independent media shop that doesn't handle P&G. Resource/Ammirati, based in nearby Columbus and once had a Cincinnati office to serve P&G but gradually lost that business to bigger roster shops. It's now part of IBM iX.

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