Grey readies major rebranding strategy

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Grey Advertising is on the brink of an agency overhaul that could result in a new name, revamped strategic positioning--even an heir apparent to Chairman-President-CEO Ed Meyer.

Top Grey executives have discussed various scenarios during the past year, including creation of a new holding company, tentatively named Grey Global Group, and a new ad agency name. A public stock offering of the agency's Mediacom Worldwide unit is also possible, according to one executive. Grey declined comment; Mr. Meyer could not be reached.

Mr. Meyer is expected to unveil at least part of the rebranding plan during an April 19 agency meeting. However, executives close to Grey cautioned that Mr. Meyer has advanced similar plans in the past, only to backtrack. The 73-year-old Mr. Meyer is "dragging his feet" on the agency overhaul, said one executive. Mr. Meyer, who controls about 70% of the agency's voting stock, still has to give the formal go-ahead for the changes.

NAME MAY DROP ADVERTISING

Grey wants to be known for more than package-goods expertise, and is aiming to "re-engineer" a new identity that could result in the word "advertising" being dropped from its name.

Not only is Grey saddled with a package-goods-heavy roster and a lackluster creative reputation, the agency has been left behind in the merger wave among fellow Procter & Gamble Co. agencies under MacManus Group and Leo Group. Executives close to the situationspeculated that Mr. Meyer--who doesn't want to relinquish any of his agency control--is the roadblock. Although it's believed that Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey discussed a possible nuptial last year, the talks were said to have been scuttled because Mr. Meyer didn't want to relinquish authority to Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts.

EYES ON BLAMER

Grey watchers are also keeping a close eye on Grey's London CEO Steve Blamer. Mr. Blamer is reportedly set to return to the U.S. at the end of April to take over Grey North America.

"It is premature to speculate about my departure from Grey, London," said Mr. Blamer, a U.S. native.

Although some have considered Grey North America President Robert Berenson a potential heir to Mr. Meyer, Mr. Blamer could challenge that.

Grey Advertising, New York, posted a dramatic 75.3% drop in net income last year to $6.4 million. Net income for last year's fourth quarter, however, rose 27.6% from $8.3 million in '98. The agency has also rebounded in 2000 billings. In New York alone, the agency has brought in more than $100 million in new client wins during the first quarter.

Contributing: Ali Qassim.

Copyright April 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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