No 58: The Garry Lace 'hoax'

It is one of UK advertising’s great unsolved mysteries, a curious case that would have tested the deductive powers of Detective Chief Inspector Morse and is still the subject of much speculation whenever ad folk gather for a glass or two.

Just who was the vengeful author of an e-mail implicating Garry Lace, then Grey London’s chief executive, in a secret plan to quit the agency and go into business with one of his clients?

What is known for certain is that, on 7 February 2004, somebody visited an internet café on London’s Tottenham Court Road and circulated an e-mail claiming Lace was leaving to set up a loyalty scheme with Drew Thomson, the Air Miles managing director.

At the time, Grey held the Air Miles account, and Lace and Thomson were long-time associates. Lace insisted the story was untrue, dismissed the e-mail as a hoax and called in the police.

It seems safe to assume that whoever sent the e-mail had sufficient knowledge of the ad business to know where it would create the maximum impact. Aside from a number of senior clients, the e-mail also went to industry luminaries including the Grey chairman, Ed Meyer, Michael Baulk at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Nigel Bogle at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Was this a case of a discontented colleague not only getting mad but also getting even? Possibly.

Lace was a flamboyant and controversial character hired by Grey from TBWA\London in 2002 with a remuneration package rumoured to be approaching £800,000 to re-energise its lacklustre London operation. In doing so, he axed a fifth of the agency’s workforce.

A little more than a month after the e-mail’s appearance, Lace resigned. Carolyn Carter, Grey Group’s European boss, admitted that "moving on is best for Garry and best for Grey".

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