Per Pedersen reveals he’s stepping down as Grey’s Global Creative Chairman to launch a swashbuckling global network of independents, writes Laura Swinton
“I’m leaving Grey to start a new adventure, to redefine what it means to be a global network,” he reveals. He’s leaving to forge a global alliance of top independent agencies, something he believes will give big clients greater access to uncompromised creativity.
It’s an idea he’s been toying with for some time and he had already been preparing to launch it at Cannes with the first wave of partners. With Cannes 2020 cancelled, he's still gearing up for a summer launch. The current environment, which has seen the Covid-19 crisis hit the industry hard, makes this move more relevant than ever, argues Per. “It sounds really wrong but it’s a really good time to rethink everything. How could a creative advertising network could look like? This was a question I was asking even at Grey. Are we set up for how clients are prioritising? How media is organising? How the world has changed?”
The model for this new network is a partnership of equals, who will retain the freedom and independence they so dearly value. By acting in such a way, they can nimbly sidestep the need for layers of bureaucracy while also being able to present marketers with a solution that combines the zestiest creative shops with a reassuring, global presence and a diversity of talent.
For now, he’s not revealing which agencies will be joining the venture as they’re currently hammering out agreements and he wants the launch to be a true partnership of equals. He projects that the network will open with at least five shops and will grow to 30 at most.
“The way I see it is I will start with a handful and possibly grow it to about 30, but no more than that. Everybody needs to be able to sit around one table,” says Per. “Everybody needs to be able to meet each other in person. I don’t want it to be bigger than that and size has never been a good thing for creativity. It’s not about big it’s about good.”
This project stems in a frustration that holding companies and their international networks have abandoned creativity as their core product. On the one hand, a desire to build one-stop-shops has meant a drive to sell clients on everything but the creativity in a bid to compete with consultancies, while tossing in ideas almost like a give-away. On the other, there’s the sheer complexity and admin that have grown up around unwieldy networks.
“Some of the agency networks now are 20,000 people, 30,000 people. You need a lot of firewood to keep the furnace going and you tend to say yes to things you shouldn’t have said yes to. You tend to compromise where you shouldn’t have because you need to pay people. You become a slave to your own size and structure,” says Per. “It’s something I always struggled with.”
What that means for clients, argues Per, is that they’re not getting the truly creative firepower they’re looking for. Indies, he says, are not yoked to corporate structures or holding company mandates to push in-house units. Instead, they’re free to work with the very best, most appropriate partners as and when the need arises.
“I want to be the partner for creativity, in its broadest sense, that’s what I want to do. That doesn’t mean to say I’m a producer or I build websites or apps, but I want to partner up with the people who are really good at that. I don’t need to own them. If you have a hammer you start to see nails everywhere… Creativity can be an experience, a song, an app, a film, a piece of writing. If you’re liberated from making your money on the production of it, then you can freely think about it. Then you start to see amazing things happen. That’s why the really creative agencies of this world have freedom, freedom from big corporate systems and freedom to own their integrity, freedom to pick and choose from the best partners and collaborating with the best people you can find in arts and writing.
“Freedom is so key to getting to good ideas,” Per continues. “I used to work like that, I want to go back to working like that – it doesn’t feel like going back, it feels like going forward.”
That’s not to say he’s leaving Grey under a cloud. He’s been on the global team at Grey since 2010 and has been global creative chairman since 2017 – and before that Per was CCO at Grey Germany. He’s immensely proud of his work to drive the creative work across the network and speaks with affection. “I love Grey, I love the people at Grey… but I just had to do something different,” he says.
"What matters to me most is the quality of the work that comes out and I don’t want to spend most of my time on administration," he says, explaining that what he really misses are agencies that are led by creatives.
Speaking to Per, his enthusiasm is palpable. Though tight-lipped about who the swashbuckling gang of creative agencies that he’s rallying together are, he says they’re a group of likeminded bunch and all people he views as friends – and he can’t wait to get to work with them. With a formal launch in the summer, things are taking shape and the lockdown situation isn’t dampening his excitement.
“You know what? It sounds strange but I’ve never been more happy and I almost feel guilty,” says Per. “Who feels happy these days? But I have this sense of relief and I even look younger – it physically does something to you when you know you are doing something that you really want.. To be liberated is the biggest rush of emotions,” he says.
With his next step, he’s consciously hasn’t been looking for another big holding company role – instead he’s chomping at the bit to get back to his creative, independent roots.
“I just want one title. I want to be creative.”