WPP Will Combine Big Agency Grey With AKQA, Drop Storied Name

Brian Steinberg
·2 min read

The end of Madison Avenue’s Grey Global is being displayed in black and white.

British advertising giant WPP said it would combine the large advertising agency with the digital-marketing company AKQA, the latest in efforts by CEO Mark Read to streamline the company as more consumers adopt mobile and digital technologies and spend more time with non-traditional media.

The new AKQA Group will employ 6,000 people in more than 50 countries, and work for clients including Procter & Gamble, Kellogg Co., Netflix, Nike and Coca-Cola. Under Read, who took over the reins of WPP in 2018 from longtime chief Sir Martin Sorrell, the company has worked to reorganize its many advertising assets, including merging ad-industry stalwart JWT with digital agency Wunderman to form Wunderman Thompson, and combining Young & Rubicam with digital agency VML, forming VMLY&R.

“Our clients want outstanding creativity, powered by technology expertise and delivered at a global scale,” said Read in a prepared statement. “This new company is designed precisely to meet those needs and is another important step forward in building our future-facing offer for clients.”

In a different era, Grey was valuable as a stand-alone company. During Sorrell’s tenure. WPP pressed hard to win Grey, eager to bring its connection to P&G under its umbrella, and paid $1.52 billion in cash and stock to take the agency off the hands of the entrepreneur who controlled it, Ed Meyer. Grey has continued to gain notice over the years, doing work with the NFL for advocacy spots that aired during the Super Bowl and helping Pringle’s potato chips match up with characters from the Cartoon Network mainstay “Rick & Morty” to stand apart in commercials.

WPP said AKQA founder Ajaz Ahmed and Grey Worldwide CEO Michael Houston would lead the new operation, with Ahmed serving as CEO and Houston working as global president and chief operating officer. While both the AKQA and Grey brands will operate initially, over time the company will use a single name. WPP said the new unit’s broader management team and creative leadership would be unveiled in weeks to come.

WPP’s moves have raised speculation that rivals like Omnicom Group, Interpublic Group and Publicis Groupe might also start to merge traditional agency operations with units that have developed a specialty in new technologies like social media and streaming video. Interpublic Group recently said its chief operating officer, Philippe Krakowsky, would take over as CEO at the start of 2021.

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