Meyer: 'I Have No Regrets at All'

Grey Global Chief Reflects on 50 Years in Advertising

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NEW YORK ( -- With the confirmation that Ed Meyer will be walking away from a half-century at Grey Global Group late this year, Advertising Age decided to find out what a true veteran of the advertising trenches has to say about the industry -- and the financial benefits he's reaped from it.

Ed Meyer

Companion Story:

After 50 Years, Grey's Ed Meyer Retires
Led Last Major Madison Avenue Independent Until Sale to WPP

Ad Age: What's the biggest change you've seen in your 50 years in advertising?

Mr. Meyer: The recognition that the channels of communication with the consumer are much broader and more extensive than the legacy media many of us of my generation grew up on. Which really means that no longer are radio, print and television considered the only strong media to use to reach consumers. A whole new range of alternatives have sprung up in which we must develop creativity, knowledge and expertise. Simply said, all the new media are important and are taking share from the established media and it is critical that today's advertising people scan the horizon and pick up on these new signals as they emerge.

Ad Age: Where do you think the advertising business is headed?

Mr. Meyer: It is true that the percentage of revenues that will come from marketing services -- as opposed to classical advertising -- will continue to increase. The challenge for agencies is to get highly proficient at these new marketing services so they get high shares of the expenditure in those categories. That is a challenge because some of these new categories like internet advertising and marketing allow new entrants and specialists in just that category to spring up and be very competitive.

There will always be two sides to the coin. There will be mega-agencies that have two huge advantages: One is in media buying -- not necessarily media planning -- and the other is as distribution mechanisms for global companies. The global marketer needs a mega-agency network to distribute their advertising around the world and to work with all their companies around the world.

Smaller agencies can't do that, but that doesn't mean smaller agencies can't do the creative work. Already there are examples when a small agency does the creative work and passes it along to a large agency to distribute around the world to all the client's country managers. There is a place for both. There will always be small agencies because they will always sell a high level of creative performance and there's a whole breed of creative people who will only want to work in a smaller agency -- so that will be there calling card.

Ad Age: Do you think anything in advertising has changed for the worse?

Mr. Meyer: The advertising industry used to be much more entrepreneurial, because there were many more companies and therefore there were many more CEOs leading their small battalions into the battle. Now the mega-agencies command a large share and while they have 30 or 40 companies under them, running a unit of the mega-agency is not quite the same as being the sergeant in charge of a platoon where your life and blood is on the line. Some of us -- and I was one -- went into the business for the entrepreneurial challenge as well as the creative challenge it provided. It provides less of an entrepreneurial challenge today because a big share of the market is no longer entrepreneurial in that original sense of owner/manager.

Ad Age: Do you have any regrets?

Mr. Meyer: No, it provided me with all the satisfaction I hoped it would and the friendships I hoped to develop as well as more economic rewards than I ever anticipated. I have no regrets at all.

Ad Age: Speaking of economic rewards, what are you planning to do with some of your money?

Mr. Meyer: Somebody once said, "Ed invests in anything that moves." No, I don't. [Laughs.] I invest in and contribute to things that have some cultural relevance to our time. I'm a creature of the culture and of the sociology of the times. I am fascinated by those areas and I try to support them and invest in them. I also invest in restaurants because I've spent so damn much of my life in them, so that made good sense and I've learned a great deal about them.

In an entrepreneurial sense, I serve on the boards of things like the Guggenheim Museum and the Lincoln Center Film Society that are culturally related and that's where I will give my money. To the degree that I invest directly into businesses, it will be some of those businesses as well.

Ad Age: Is there anything you will miss about Grey?

Mr. Meyer: I'm sure there will be. It's been an exciting business. It's been fun to run a company of this size, but I won't miss it in the sense that I will long for it -- I will think about every now and again as a nice experience I had. I intend to be focused on the things that are coming up and I'm very excited about them.
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