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Strategic Planning, Creative Management to Get New Emphasis

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- At a special off-site meeting of the agency’s New York employees this week, Grey Worldwide CEO Jim Heekin outlined his plan to radically shift the operating philosophy at the agency.
The new organzational policies will be first instituted at Grey's Manhattan headquarters.
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Major change
The plan, which will be first instituted at Grey’s 777 Third Ave. headquarters and move later this year to other markets, is to elevate strategic planning and creative on a par with account management. Bringing the disciplines to the forefront is a marked change for Grey, renowned for its commitment to account management and whose former chief, Ed Meyer, is still viewed by many in the industry as the consummate account man.

But after selling Grey Global Group to longtime rival WPP Group last March, Mr. Meyer is stepping back from running the company and letting Mr. Heekin take charge of Grey Worldwide, the world’s fifth-largest agency network, according to the most recent Ad Age figures. Mr. Meyer led in a command-and-control style, and was the ultimate decision maker. Mr. Heekin calls himself a “huge believer in team.”

The reorganization announcement follows a round of layoffs in mid-January that eliminated the jobs of 50 employees, or roughly 7% of the New York staff. Grey now has about 600 employees. No more cuts are planned.

Strong strategic planning is crucial to an agency’s success, Mr. Heekin believes, because it provides insight into what consumers think and feel about a brand. He noted that his first two big hires -- strategic planners Suresh Nair and Nat Puccio, who joined in November from Interpublic Group of Cos.’ McCann Erickson Worldwide as exec VP-co-directors, global strategic planning -- were key in developing strategy that helped McCann win two of last year’s biggest reviews, the $300 million Intel business and the $1.35 billion U.S. Army account.

'Not had great clarity'
Messrs. Nair and Puccio will work closely with Grey’s chief creative officer and president-North America, Tim Mellors. “In recent times, we’ve not had great clarity in our strategy. One of the huge wastes of time is to use creative teams to get to a strategic insight. That was often a problem on Mars (a former Grey account), where we’d work up 15 different commercials to get to the few that were right on,” said Mr. Mellors. “It would have been easier to start with a strong strategic brief.” Grey had strategic planners on staff, but they didn’t work together as a team. “There’s been inconsistency,” said Mr. Puccio.

One of the overhaul’s most obvious components, already begun, is the dismantling of Grey New York’s unique operating structure, put in place by former agency executive Steve Blamer. Dubbed the “village” system, it divided the office into eight or so relatively autonomous units, each headed by an account manager, creative director, and strategic planner, who were responsible for each unit’s profit and loss, new business efforts and accounts.

Internal reorganization
Though not without some benefits, such as promoting autonomy and entrepreneurialism, the villages’ drawbacks outweighed the positives, said Mr. Heekin. “It was more like New York had eight or nine little companies, each operating individually, rather than an entire agency, with a full service offering.” He also believed the villages, which generally pursued new- business pitches individually, precluded Grey from competing in many bigger budget reviews. From Mr. Mellors’ perspective, the villages impeded creatives from getting broad experience working on a variety of accounts. “The goal, as a young creative is to get a complete insight about consumer consumption. No one consumes just shampoo.”

Under the new plan, the creative and strategic planner groups will each sit together on particular floors. Account managers will be sprinkled within each group.

'Give everyone a common language'
Messrs. Puccio and Nair are already developing a new set of strategic tools and processes to be used throughout the agency to “give everyone a common language,” said Mr. Puccio. Years ago, when Mr. Heekin became head of McCann Erickson’s New York office, he recruited the pair to work with him. “We’ve done this before,” said Mr. Puccio. “Back at McCann, we created a model for the entire system.”

Grey’s top hundred executives from outside the U.S. will come to New York in the spring to see how New York operates and hear from Mr. Heekin how the plan will be applied in their regions.

Strengthening Grey’s creative product and reputation is potentially the most difficult task of all. While Grey’s account-management reputation is strong, its creative is often criticized as lackluster. To change that, said Mr. Mellors, “We’ve got to have sounder strategy, and to be sharper in execution. We’re not laboring under any illusions. You have to prove it in the work.”

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