OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Grey chief resorts to sangfroid after hoax e-mail

Last week, Campaign published a hoax e-mail about a plan by Garry Lace, Grey London's chief executive, to launch a loyalty scheme with the Air Miles managing director, Drew Thomson. Although Lace and Thomson deny the story, an industry source confirms that the pair has been working on just such a scheme.

Seldom has one front-page story provoked so much comment. By lunchtime on the day of publication we had dozens of calls from people on all sides of the story. Interestingly, none came from Lace's superiors within Grey, though a bit of prodding produced the requisite call back. It came from Carolyn Carter, the shrewd president of the Grey Global Group Europe.

Readers may recall that she gave Lace a somewhat muted vote of confidence, reprinted on our front page last week: "I believe someone is innocent until proven guilty." Here are some of Carter's answers to our questions this week.

Q. Does Garry Lace and the management team he appointed still have your confidence? A. We have no tangible evidence at this point to change our view of Garry or his team. This morning (Tuesday) Garry reaffirmed his commitment to Grey London.

Q. What do you think this story has done to Grey's image, and to Garry Lace's reputation? A. It is a distraction. Most people I know are not giving the story too much credence. As for Garry, I think it's made him more famous, it's entertaining reading.

Q. Have clients raised any concerns? A. I have not received a single call from a client about the e-mail.

Q. How important is it to you personally to get Grey London right? A. Long silence ... "It is something I care deeply about."

It is this last answer that may explain Carter's remarkable sang-froid. I hope that her approach was not affected by her desire to get back to Madison Avenue. With Grey Europe on an even keel and the flagship London office stabilised, she still might emerge as a potential successor to Grey Global's 76-year-old chairman, Ed Meyer.

Carter, in many ways, is stuck in an impossible position. In the first place she knows Lace and his team - she recruited him, after all. That team is already a little way down the road towards re-energising the agency.

Her inexperience in the peculiarities of the London market, and her periods of absence when she is away working elsewhere in the Grey empire, constitute something of a handicap. She could take a chance and recruit someone to oversee Lace and his team now. But it would be a risk, and probably a greater one, at any rate in her mind, than that of sticking with the original relaunch team.

I think this story has two wider implications. Lace typifies a new strand of management in British advertising. Big, brash characters, brimming with pizazz, their shameless courting of publicity suggests that they have more than a whiff of self-interest about them.

At a time when advertising is under fire and needs desperately to assert the value of what it does, this cannot be helpful.

And here's a thought: I wonder if another US conglomerate might have been thinking of "doing a Grey" until this story broke. By that I mean taking a calculated risk on an untried, untested, talented and costly bunch of young managers, in effect parachuting them in on top of a moribund culture and hoping for the best.

After recent events, I bet they would think twice.

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