Yesterday, the London arm of global advertising agency, Grey, which has a presence in 96 countries, announced that for the next 100 days it will be known as Valenstein & Fatt - in a powerful statement "against intolerance and prejudice."
Valenstein & Fatt is named after the firm's original founders, Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, who launched the original Grey advertising agency in New York a century ago. Both were Jewish, and feared that with anti-Semitism rampant in America's early 20th-Century corporate culture, using their own names in the name of their business (as was common in their industry) would doom it to failure; as a result, they chose something safe - the color of their office's wallpaper - and the now globally-known "Grey" was born.
According to his New York Times obituary upon his death in 1982, Valenstein explained that he did not use his own name in the firm's because he "thought his name was hard to pronounce and remember" - a sentiment similar to one that many immigrants express to this day, often as a euphemism for their facing subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, nonacceptance.
According to Valenstein & Fatt, a recent uptick in hate and xenophobia helped motivate it to act: "So to honor our founders, we're making a statement against intolerance and prejudice, by doing what Lawrence and Arthur couldn't back in 1917. We're putting their names on our door. A symbol of where we're from, how far we've come and how much there is still left to be done."
Along with the name change, Valenstein & Fatt is launching a five-point diversity plan that will include, among other efforts, making its diversity data available to the public for the first time, and establishing a task force that will work to remove various barriers that dissuade ethnic minorities from pursuing careers in advertising.
While Valenstein & Fatt plans to resume using its century-old name, Grey, in 100 days, there is little doubt that its diversity efforts will continue to provide value long beyond then. Let us also hope that the message it is sending now with its temporary rebranding continues to spread, and reaches the many places where tolerance could use a boost.