Back in 1917, two young Jewish entrepreneurs, Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, started up their own advertising agency in New York. Anti-Semitism was rife and their names could cost them business. So they called the company Grey, after the colour of the wallpaper in the office.
‘There were no Jewish agencies and there were no Jewish people in advertising,’ says Grey historian Mary Ghiorisi. ‘It was a business conducted by white men on golf courses and at country clubs that Larry and Arthur did not have access to.’
Grey is now one of the world's biggest advertising agencies, with 10,000 employees across 96 countries. And today, in a stand against xenophobia, the agency has renamed itself Valenstein & Fatt, putting the name of its Jewish founders above the door for the first time.
'We started delving into its history and realised that its founders hadn't been properly recognised; their names meant nothing in the wider industry,' says CEO Leo Rayman. 'This also felt like the right time to make a statement against the rising tide of extremism and prejudice.'
For the next 100 days, all the company's branding - from email signatures and client presentations to the reception walls - will bear the names of the agency's original founders. The move is part of a wider diversity drive that will see the agency publish its diversity data, work with 100 primary and secondary schools to encourage children into creative industries, and launch the Valenstein & Fatt Bursary, which will pay a year’s rent to two young employees from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘There are a lot of companies out there who are just "diversity-washing". But this is more than just a PR stunt,' says Rayman. 'We want to improve diversity and tolerance in an industry that has been far too slow to change.’
According to research by Campaign and the IPA, only 12% of agency staff come from a black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. And just 19% of people featured in advertising are from minority groups.
Check out the video below.