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This 100-year-old creative agency now connects startups with global brands


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    This 100-year-old creative agency now connects startups with global brands

    Grey Group launched Grey Adventures in Singapore, to establish a bridge between corporate clients and startups

    February 22, 2018

    For a hundred years, New York-based company Grey Group has been a stalwart media and advertising partner for renowned global brands such as Canon, 3M, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Ferrero Rocher, and more.

    Besides having a long list of accolades to its name — including the Grand Prix and Lions awards, the company’s last reported revenue in 2003 (before it was bought by UK advertising firm WPP) was a healthy US$1.3 billion.

    The firm has had its fair of share of ups and downs over the years, but today it remains relevant still, and has a presence in over 96 markets.

    The key to Grey Group’s staying power? Its culture of innovation. In 2010, it was listed in Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies” list. One of the more forward-thinking initiatives it has recently launched is “Grey Adventures”, which connects startups with Grey Group’s clients.

    There is no equity or fee exchange involved but there are mutual benefits. Startups get to develop and sell their solutions to big-name corporate brands and Grey Group can service their clients better as a result.

    “Making IPs is one part of it,” says Mans Tesch, Regional Chief Strategy Officer, Grey Group AMEA, tells e27, on the impetus for Grey Adventures.

    “The most important is part is to help ourselves and clients look beyond advertising and look at new creative opportunities. To get to that point you have to understand new tech and the evolution of tech,” he says.

    Tesch is part of the three-person team that leads the Singapore chapter of Grey Adventures. The other two members are Brenda Chung, Global Group Account Director, Grey Singapore, and Suresh Ramaswamy. Regional Digital Lead Grey Group, AMEA.

    “We are like a connective tissue between brands and emerging technologies. That’s pretty much the core of Grey Adventures. Our efforts at Grey Adventures is to kind of embrace all of these things, build tech in-house, and continue to use creativity to drive brand growth,” says Ramaswamy.

    Grey Adventures was soft-launched in September 2017. And within a month, 17 startups were invited to run daily scrums and test out prototypes at Grey Group’s regional headquarters in central Singapore. Currently, there are 18 startups, with eight more in the pipeline.

    The team says that by having the startups to get together and “jam” in their home space, it helps breed a “culture of curiosity” within the creative agency. Grey Group’s employees can tap into opportunities they would not be normally exposed to, these include tech solutions ranging from VR/AR — which it says are important storytelling tools — to AI as well as e-commerce/social commerce.

    Grey Group, in turn, translate the ‘tech speak’ into layman English so its client can better understand the uses of these tech solutions.

    “We tend to ask common questions to startups. We translate geek speak to English for our clients and vice versa for our startups. Most of us [at Grey Adventures] understand tech,” says Ramaswamy.

    “It’s a value exchange. Startups provide us with the expertise and we give them access to clients. When it gets into a commercial exchange with the client, we divide the spoils between the two of us,” he says.

    “If startups knock on the doors of Coca-Cola or P&G, nobody is going to open for them. But if we knock on their behalf, the doors will be opened to them. The minute they have that brand on their portfolio, it changes the value of their company and people take them seriously. So it’s quid pro quo.”

    Grey Group launched this initiative in Singapore due to the latter’s status as a startup hub in the region. Many of Grey Group’s clients also have regional headquarters based in this market, so it makes business sense.

    “Singapore has a large concentration of talent and a vibrant startup community. From here, we can service three continents: Asia, Africa and Australia,” says Suresh Ramaswamy.

    Beyond examining an entrepreneur’s expertise, Chung says Grey Adventures also looks for diversity among its startups — making sure there is gender equality.

    “We make an extra effort to look for female startups. There is one female in our community who is a female startup builder, we hope she will support more female entrepreneurs,” says Chung.

    Two of these female-led startups at Grey Adventures is the aforementioned female startup community Startup Asia Women and Groupstar.

    The latter provides a service to turn anyone into a professional video spokesperson anywhere they are in the world, using a mobile and web production platform. Groupstar claims its platform is used by Fortune 1000 companies in sectors such as commercial banking, asset management and telecommunication.

    “We have a future vision which absolutely includes collaboration with startups. By taking this bold and committed step of launching Grey Adventures we are now a part of the disruption. We see it as a mutually beneficial partnership where we will also be able to innovate and fast-track game-changing products and services,” says Nirvik Singh, Chairman & CEO Grey Group, AMEA.


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