Heekin: It won't take a village to rejuvenate Grey

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Grey Worldwide CEO Jim Heekin is radically shifting the operating philosophy at the agency, elevating 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 as the consummate account man.

After selling Grey Global Group to longtime rival WPP Group last March, Mr. Meyer is stepping back and letting Mr. Heekin take charge of the world's fifth-largest agency network. 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.

Mr. Heekin 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 the $300 million Intel business and the $1.35 billion U.S. Army account.

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."

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.

"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," said Mr. Heekin, noting that the villages, which generally pursued new-business pitches individually, precluded Grey from competing in many bigger budget reviews.

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