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This ad agency is standing against ‘the rising tide of xenophobia’ and rebranding with the name of its Jewish founders

The London arm of a global advertising agency has changed its name to those of its Jewish founders to "make a statement against intolerance and prejudice," and says it is doing so in the wake of recent events including last week's terror attack in London's Westminster.

Grey London will become Valenstein & Fatt for 100 days, named after its Jewish founders Larry Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, who launched the original agency in New York in 1917.

"Against the rising tide of xenophobia, Grey London puts the name of its Jewish founders above the door and launches a five-point diversity plan," the company said in an emailed statement.

Valenstein and Fatt did not name their agency after themselves for fear of anti-Semitism, an accompanying video explains. It shows footage of the founders as a voiceover says: "You're Jewish. Anti-Semitism is commonplace in a predominantly white, protestant industry."

The film continues with Grey historian Mary Ghiorsi explaining: "There were no Jewish agencies and there were no Jewish people in advertising, it was a business conducted by white men on golf courses, at country clubs that Larry (Valenstein) and Arthur (Fatt) did not have access to."

"Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur C. Fatt are names that could cost you business, so you call it Grey, the color of the wallpaper in your office," the voiceover says.

The agency is now using its founders' names in a "commitment to diversity and openness."

A stand against hate

"Recent events, from rising instances of hate crime and terror attacks in London to the triggering of Article 50, 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," said Leo Rayman, the agency's chief executive, in an emailed statement. Britain saw a rise in racial tension just after the Brexit vote last June.

The video also includes footage of a Black Lives Matter demonstration and President Donald Trump chanting "Build that wall," at a rally, as the voiceover continues: "Discrimination and the inevitable sting of fear and hate it brings should be banished to history, but somehow, history is repeating itself."

Trump has recently denounced anti-Semitism and racism, telling a White House press conference that he is the "least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life," in February, in response to a question about threats to Jewish centers in the U.S.

The Valenstein and Fatt video voiceover continues: "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."

Larry Valenstein (left) and Arthur Fatt founded Grey Advertising in 1917
Larry Valenstein (left) and Arthur Fatt founded Grey Advertising in 1917

Asked whether the ad agency world could have an impact on terrorism, Rayman told CNBC by phone:

"Making a statement against intolerance and prejudice and improving your own working conditions is not quite the same as solving global terrorism … I wouldn't want to make too grandiose a claim about what we can do."

"The things that cause that are so much deeper, but to be a bastion for openness at difficult times would seem to me to be a good thing," he added.

A diverse workforce

The agency's five-point plan to encourage people from diverse backgrounds into the creative industries includes working with schools and paying a year's worth of rent for two candidates from ethnic minority or disadvantaged backgrounds. It has also committed to develop and mentor its diverse talent and has published information on its London employees' nationalities, gender and education.

"It's like the tip of an iceberg in a sense, this renaming exercise, because it draws attention and shows the staff in the company how seriously we're taking diversity in the workplace," Rayman told CNBC by phone.

"And also using it as a moment to throw a bit of a gauntlet down to the wider creative industry, but particularly the advertising industry, and say: What can we collectively do to genuinely make a difference in how open we are to different types of people working for our companies?" he added.

Valenstein & Fatt's London office
Valenstein & Fatt | Dan Weill
Valenstein & Fatt's London office

Rayman said that recruiting people from diverse backgrounds encourages greater creativity and helps advertising better represent audiences.

"If you want to market to people in this country and other countries, you'd like to think that you had an ability to understand them and empathize, and the more different people you have the easier it will be to do that.

"The second thing (is), the more different people you have, the more different start points for ideas and in creative industries particularly, in creative roles, require lots of different minds coming together in collision to get to new versions of ideas and ways into problems."

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