Grey London Breakaway Trio Launch 'Uncommon Creative Studio'

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Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson, Natalie Graeme
Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson, Natalie Graeme Credit: Uncommon Creative Studio

The trio that transformed Grey London from a pedestrian outpost of a global network into one of London's hottest creative shops, and then abruptly quit, launches a much-anticipated startup today.

Nils Leonard, Grey London's ex-chairman and chief creative officer, is opening Uncommon Creative Studio with his former chief executive, Lucy Jameson, and managing director, Natalie Graeme.

They quit in June 2016, and have been serving out the non-compete agreements that are strictly enforced at WPP shops. (A previous WPP breakaway, by RKCR/Y&R execs to form Adam & Eve, jumped the gun and those execs ended up having to both pay and apologize to WPP).

Leonard says they are all grateful for "time out of the bubble." A designer by background who joined Grey as chief creative officer in 2007 and added chairman to his title in 2014, he has spent the last year setting up a coffee brand, Halo, and working closely with recruitment app Headstart. His two partners returned to their days as interns. Jameson did an internship at Facebook and Graeme at a games company.

So what's uncommon about Uncommon Creative Studio? Leonard has always been an agitator, unsatisfied with the status quo.

"Tech is forcing us to be more similar," he says. "There is more room than ever before for something different. The world has never felt more tender and open to new ideas."

The agency is selling itself as "a company with a viewpoint on the world" that will help brands negotiate the "Skip Ad" culture. He says, "We want to work with brands who know where they fit into the world, and make stuff that really matters." The plan is to do this either by working with clients or by creating brands from scratch.

Uncommon Creative Studio is plugged into an international network of 25 strategists, pulled together by Jameson, and is working on new ways to employ people based around the Hollywood model of bringing talent together for projects.

Jameson says, "We know that the more diverse, irreverent, and unusual the people, the more diverse, irreverent and unusual the ideas. And, as a majority female-founded startup, we never begin with the status quo."

Fridays will be set aside for people to work on their own ventures, either collectively or separately. "We don't want people to sell their soul during the day and give their heart after six," Graeme says.

Not that Uncommon Creative Studio's founders wants to distance themselves too far from their past. "We are not allergic to advertising," Leonard added, "it's just that we are for people who give a shit."

He brought creative kudos to Grey with work like Volvo's "Life Paint," which won two Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival in 2015. Last year, Grey London won 14 Cannes Lions for a single campaign, "500 Years of Stories" for the Tate Britain art gallery, the week before Leonard, Jameson and Graeme departed.

Halo and Headstart are the only two clients that Uncommon Creative Studios has announced, but Leonard claims they are already working with a couple much larger marketers.

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