When Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt set up a New York ad agency in 1917, anti-Semitism was rife. So according to agency lore, they picked the bland name Grey, after the color of their office walls, to gloss over their Jewish identities.
Now, in the week when the U.K. triggers its official Brexit split from the European Union, and in the aftermath of a terrorist attack at the Houses of Parliament, Grey London is changing its name to Valenstein & Fatt for the next 100 days.
The initiative is designed to celebrate the agency's Jewish founders and highlight prejudice. On the Valenstein & Fatt website, Vicki Maguire, joint chief operating officer of Grey London and now Valenstein & Fatt, is quoted saying, "Difference isn't a f***ing business problem. It's the solution that will drag this business into the 21st century."
The move has the support of Grey Group's chairman and CEO, Jim Heekin, who said in a statement, "We have a full year of activities planned for Grey's Centennial and we thought Grey London's diversity initiative was a great way to kick off. Our founders faced discrimination and built a great company."
The agency's London reception area and stationery have been rebranded, and Leo Rayman, CEO of Valenstein & Fatt (and of Grey London since last year), is taking the project beyond a cosmetic makeover by launching five initiatives to go behind it.
Valenstein & Fatt has made public its own diversity data, and issetting up a cross-industry taskforce with MediaCom Chairwoman Karen Blackett (one of Ad Age's Women to Watch Europe in 2016) to identify the barriers to recruitment and retention of talent among ethnic minorities.
The agency will also work with 100 primary and secondary schools in London to create a program of full-day workshops, coaching and open days. Valenstein & Fatt will develop its existing diverse talent by identifying 50 individuals as "ones to watch" and providing them with formal mentoring schemes.
Finally, a Valenstein & Fatt bursary will pay a year's rent for up to two young people from less privileged backgrounds.
Mr. Rayman said in a statement, "Recent events … have sent shivers through our society and businesses, but it should also inspire a collective and determined attitude that our country and our companies will not change for the worse."
A film produced in support of the Valenstein & Fatt project demonstrates that history is repeating itself by drawing comparisons between the prejudice suffered by Valenstein & Fatt in 1917 and Donald Trump's promise to build a wall to keep Mexicans out a century later.
As Grey London, the agency's diversity record is not particularly impressive, but the data has been published in the hope of pushing transparency across the industry.
The largest chunk of staff, 39%, were educated at private or international schools, with another 12% coming from selective state schools. Two-thirds of staff -- 67% -- are English, and most of the rest are from Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Only 8% are the children of immigrants, defined as two parents not born in the U.K.
This isn't the first time an agency has played with its name in support of the underrepresented. Last year, Adam&Eve/DDB London flipped its name to Eve&Adam, in honor of International Women's day, and this year, all of DDB changed its name to DDB&R, adding the initial of the agency's first female copy chief.
A version of this story also appears on Adage.com.