Grey London leaders discuss their diversity initiatives

Joint chief creative officers of Grey London

When the leadership team of advertising agency Grey London left the business in 2016, these friends and former colleagues rejoined each other as its joint chief creative officers. They discuss how they work as a ‘two-headed monster’ and describe their efforts to tackle the industry’s enduring lack of diversity

Caroline Pay Back in 2008 we were both working at the same agency, but on different projects with different teams. We started getting wheeled in for any event where a female creative director was needed, because there’s only a handful of us in this business. More than anything, we made each other laugh. We decided then that we’d be firm friends.

Vicki Maguire About 18 months ago members of Grey’s senior management team left to start their own business – the move was called ‘Grexit’. That propelled us into this new shared role.

There’s a lot of ego in our industry. Although we’re both ambitious, we’re not ego-driven, so I instantly knew that Caroline and I could do something with this arrangement. We have the same beliefs not only about the industry but about culture and how to get the best out of people.

Pay Vicki is the best writer I know. She’s also no people-pleaser – she’ll cut through it all and tell it like it is. But I’ve never met another creative who cares more than Vicki and I do about their people, or who can sit down and have money chats like we can. We love talking about money and crunching business problems. We have commercial muscles that you don’t often see in creatives.

Maguire I admire every piece of Caroline’s work, but she also taught me a massive lesson that totally reframed my role. She said: ‘I don’t believe in imposter syndrome – and here’s why: people pay good money to have you in that room. They’re paying for your opinion and they want to hear it.’

It’s true: your life experiences are totally different from anyone else’s and your opinion is valid. The client is paying for that. If you don’t give it, you haven’t done your job and you’ve done a disservice to your intelligence.

Pay We pride ourselves on having an open culture at Grey. Our partnership has allowed us to take that to another level. When we got together as joint chief creative officers, we started a dialogue with the creative team about what we’d be doing for them and what we expected them to do for us in return. We’re not here to play games and we don’t beat around the bush. We tell people when they’re messing up but also when they’re doing brilliant work. You know exactly where you stand with both of us, which is pretty refreshing in this industry.

Maguire The industry is going through difficult times, but we know what makes creatives and clients tick. We attract talented people, not because they think they’re going to win awards but because they think they’ll do the best work of their lives here.

Pay When I was a young creative working with my partner at the time, Kim Gehrig, we rejected being the ‘girl team’, getting the ‘girly’ briefs, being told we were ‘funny for girls’ – all of that crap. We got angry about it. Now that I’ve grown up and made it to this level, it’s my honour and responsibility to be a role model for women. I’m very proud that we can show the industry that two creative leaders who just so happen to be women can succeed, because it means that more women will follow.

Maguire It’s not only about being women; it’s also about our backgrounds. Caroline’s the queen of Croydon and I’m Leicester born and bred. We both did night jobs to propel us through the early stages of our careers. It’s inspiring that we’ve now reached – through talent – the levels we have. It’s our responsibility to bring more people like us into the profession.

Pay The temporary renaming of Grey as Valenstein & Fatt after the founders of the firm, which we did to mark its centennial, also kicked off a number of diversity initiatives. We’re visiting 100 schools, creating two bursaries for graduates, doing a big data collection and leading a task force of 20 agencies to make lots of differences in the industry. We’re also working with a new campaign called This Ability, which gives us access to all of the disabled talent that can’t get into agencies. We’re champions of diversity across the board, rather than of gender equality alone.

Maguire In the past I’ve been phoned up and asked to go for a job in a very successful agency “because we need more skirt”. Seriously. We as an industry have to realise that we are not the North Star. People do not need to work with us. I’m sure – and I don’t blame them – that lots of cool creative people will look at this industry and say: ‘Really?

But we’re also losing talent to extremely high tuition fees and ridiculous London rents. Caroline and I are founding members of the Creative Circle foundation, which will sponsor and mentor five people from disadvantaged backgrounds this year and 14 next year. We will pay their tuition fees and living costs for 18 months after they graduate. We’ll then give them a placement at Grey because this is going to feed back into the company tenfold.

Pay When I look around the office at 6pm and see that people have gone home, I’m super-happy about that. Working all weekend or cancelling your holiday simply means either that you’re not managing yourself properly or that you’re not being looked after properly. If people need to work out of the office, come in late or work from home, we honestly couldn’t care less, just as long as they’re blowing our minds with the work they’re doing.

Maguire You’d think that this is normal practice, but it’s not. There is still that culture in our industry of racking up hours like they’re Brownie points and getting a medal when you collapse because you’re burnt out. We know that this is wrong. We will make this a place where you can do the best work of your life in an environment that suits you.

Pay Vicki and I are like a two-headed monster that is absolutely going to tell you when the work isn’t good enough but is absolutely going to help you make the work better. I hope that our employees feel they can come to either of us in the knowledge that we’ll help them. If we feel that we need a different approach, we get on and do it. We don’t have to ask for permission and we’re not going to sit around twiddling our thumbs. We both know that we need to develop all the time – we’re not afraid to try new things – and we’ve got each other’s backs.

Grey London: Vital info

Founded 1917 in New York. In March 2017 Grey’s London arm changed its name to Valenstein & Fatt for 100 days to honour its late founders, Larry Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, and to promote diversity and religious tolerance. They had named their agency after the colour of the office wallpaper, rather than themselves, fearing that anti-Semitism would ruin its chances of success

Key clients Brother, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Kellogg’s, Lucozade, Marks and Spencer, McVitie’s

Joint chief creative officers

Caroline Pay After studying creative advertising at Bournemouth University, Pay held creative positions at Wieden + Kennedy, Karmarama, Mother and BBH London before joining Grey in 2017.

Vicki Maguire After studying fashion at Newcastle University, Maguire worked for Ogilvy & Mather, Mojo, StrawberryFrog and Wieden + Kennedy, where she first met Pay. She joined Grey in 2009 and was executive creative director before becoming joint chief creative officer with Pay in 2017

About author

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty

Until she left the magazine in August 2019, Hannah Gresty was the assistant editor of Director. She previously worked on a local news website and at a fashion PR company before joining the Director team as editorial assistant in 2016.

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