Grey Canada to remain intact despite AKQA merger

WPP has created the AKQA Group with its latest merger, but the name will be sticking around in Canada.
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The Grey name will carry on in Canada, despite holding company WPP merging the agency at the global level with AKQA.

First reported earlier today by Campaign, Grey will merge with AKQA to become “AKQA Group,” forming a brand experience agency that will combine Grey’s creative legacy with AKQA’s reputation in digital and innovation. It will also mean dropping the Grey brand, which has been operating since 1917.

However, Marc Lanouette, CEO at Grey Canada, tells strategy that while this is a global merger, regional integration is being predicated on client and market needs.

That means the merger will have “no impact” on the agency’s Canadian operations in the short term, he says, whether it is for Grey, Montreal-based Tank (which Grey acquired in 2016) or either of the agency’s names.

While there won’t be any immediate changes to the agencies’ operations or names, Lanouette does see clear benefits from the global integration – namely, greater access to AKQA’s skill sets and offerings.

As we look to the future, we believe this synergy will create an unbeatable proposition for our clients, from start-ups to multinationals,” he said in an email. “This is great news for our Canadian group, as we’ve become adept at working in a borderless way, and the addition of AKQA and their reputation for digital innovation and technology skills will increase our ability to deliver world-leading creative solutions.”

Another big reason the Grey name is sticking around in Canada is that AKQA does not currently have an office here, though it did previously have staff on the ground in Toronto from 2014 to 2015 to help handle Canadian relationships for some global accounts.

The merger builds off Grey Canada’s priority of moving toward a more “borderless” network model. Owen Dougherty, EVP and chief communications officer for Grey Group, noted to strategy last year that while the agency had been known for producing quality work locally, it had aspirations of having a more significant impact globally and taking on more opportunities from across the Grey network.

That insight came amid a restructuring of Grey’s Canadian leadership, which include global ECD Emiliano Gonzalez De Pietri taking on the added role of CCO of Grey Canada ahead of the departure of Canadian CCO Helen Pak and ECD Joel Arbez, with ECD James Ansley and director of client services Nicole Lupke being promoted to co-managing directors of Grey Canada. That came shortly after the agency closed its Vancouver office.

Globally, the Grey-AKQA merger – which had been jokingly referred to as “Grey-KQA” when rumours about a merger last popped up in 2018 – is the latest example of WPP simplifying its operations by merging its agencies, even if it means losing legacy brands like J. Walter Thompson and Y&R.