AKQA and Grey merge, WPP retires Grey name

WPP’s AKQA and Grey are merging to form a new network model, AKQA Group and retiring the Grey name. The combined entity will have 6,000 people in more than 50 countries and a blue-chip client roster that includes more than half of the Fortune 500’s top 20. It will provide a full range of brand experience capabilities across all communications platforms, strengthening the skills and services of both companies for clients.

AKQA first came under the WPP family in 2012 when the network bought a majority stake in a deal valuing the company at almost US$540m, making it then one of the most significant deals in the digital advertising market. Meanwhile WPP acquired Grey in 2004 for approximately US$1.52 billion, WSJ reported

AKQA founder Ajaz Ahmed and Grey Worldwide CEO Michael Houston will partner to lead the new group. Ahmed will become chief executive officer and Houston will become global president and chief operating officer of AKQA Group. The AKQA Group will launch with the AKQA and Grey brands, which will be integrated over time into a single company based on client and market needs. 

The move follows the combination of other WPP agencies to create Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R. In both the cases, the global CEO title was handed to the leaders of the digital-first agencies. Jon Cook, who is the global CEO of VML Y&R was previously serving as VML global CEO from 2011 to 2018. He joined the agency in 1996, and during his tenure VML grew from 30 employees in Kansas City, Missouri, to more than 3,000 employees across six continents. Meanwhile, Mel Edwards, global CEO of Wunderman Thompson, started at Wunderman UK as the CEO in 2012, where she was tasked with turning the agency into a force in the marketplace, and three years later, she became the CEO of Wunderman EMEA. In September 2018, Edwards was named Global CEO of Wunderman and successfully led the agency's transition to Wunderman Thompson.​

However, WPP has said that the management team and creative leadership will be announced in the coming weeks, comprising leaders from AKQA and Grey. In APAC, Grey is currently led by Nirvik Singh, chairman and CEO of Grey AMEA; COO. Meanwhile Adam O’Conor is the chairman and CEO of Grey Greater China. AKQA Asia Pacific is run by Brian Vella, managing partner.

According to a release, the combined AKQA Group will have expertise in the media, entertainment and technology sectors as well as packaged goods, healthcare and financial services.  While Grey has been credited for its creative storytelling and global brand-building at scale, AKQA is known for its innovation and experience design skills. With heightened demand for digital transformation and technology-driven capabilities, “the combination will create a powerful new proposition for clients as a leading creative solutions company with a worldwide footprint,” the release added.    

Ahmed said, “Our goal is to expand horizons, combining the curiosity, ambition, imagination and pioneering spirit of a startup with the reach of a global enterprise. This is an unparalleled opportunity for AKQA and Grey to bring our shared assets to life into a modern, creatively-led company, building upon our inspiring and useful work to create value for our clients, people and communities.”   

Houston added, “This exciting new partnership begins with what consumers expect, clients value, and brands need. Forming a new company that can deliver culture-driving ideas through technology at speed and scale is a potent proposition for our clients, large and small, and will allow us to offer the most powerful creative solutions in the industry.” 

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