First Olivia Browne and now Caroline Pay: is something going wrong at Grey?

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Caroline Pay's departure suggests change is afoot at Grey London.

Is there a reboot going on at Grey London? First Olivia Browne, the managing director, leaves the agency without a job to go to after just one year in the role and then just days later the joint chief creative officer, Caroline Pay, also quits after a similarly short tenure at the agency. Rumours about both had been doing the rounds for a while – although at the time the agency scotched them, rather disingenuously it turns out.

Browne, who joined from The Martin Agency, has less of a profile than Pay and the impact – or otherwise – of her departure will presumably only be felt internally.

But the loss of Pay is more stinging – after being paired with the equally feisty and potty-mouthed Vicki Maguire, Grey quite rightly made much of having a pair of women running its creative department and, on paper, the combination promised much for the future.

Certainly their joint "Why Fuck Ups are Fundamental for Creative Futures" presentation at Advertising Week Europe was one of the highlights of a festival that is notably thin on inspiring talks from creatives. However critics could argue that aside from the "Paddington and the Christmas visitor" spot for Marks & Spencer, which was the public’s favourite festive ad of 2017 according to Campaign’s Adwatch poll but whose creative DNA perhaps belonged to Michael Bond and the Paddington film’s director Paul King, the agency’s output has not been firing on all cylinders.

Pay’s new job working for the meditation app Headspace in Los Angeles might provide a new pace of life (although whether the F-bomb is a meditative mantra we’ll have to wait and see) and a new direction, it still feels like the pairing has unfinished business – it hasn’t been a fuck up but Grey has not reached its previous heights, and the combination was not as powerful as it could have been.

In fairness to all at the shop, the agency’s chief executive Leo Rayman, promoted to the top role when Lucy Jameson, Natalie Graeme and Nils Leonard quit to found Uncommon, has done a fairly decent job of steadying the ship when amid so much upheaval there could have been significant client fallout. Maguire and Pay have both been brilliant advocates and industry role models. But the fact remains the new management team hasn’t gelled. 

Maguire has said that she is "losing her work wife". Maybe something was wrong with the work wife balance – but hopefully as a sole operator she will now be able to use her undoubted talents to get things really motoring.

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign

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