Pressure on Lace after hoax e-mail

A scheme by Garry Lace, Grey London's chief executive, to quit the agency to set up an Air Miles-type loyalty scheme has hit trouble after the secret was blown in a hoax e-mail.

Lace, who has run Grey for only 15 months, claims he has no intention of setting up such a venture. He has dismissed the e-mail as a hoax. However, an industry source confirmed that Lace had hatched a plan for a loyalty programme with the Air Miles managing director, Drew Thompson.

Lace and Thompson, who awarded Grey the Air Miles business in July 2003, are long-time associates. They spent a week together at the Rugby World Cup in Australia late last year. In August last year, Lace mooted the idea of himself and Thompson swapping jobs for three months (Campaign, 15 August 2003). The idea came to nothing.

Thompson has also denied involvement, as have two of the other figures mentioned in the e-mail (right) - Nicola Mendelsohn, the Grey marketing director, and Peter Walker, BBDO's former European finance chief. Walker said: "I know nothing about how to run a loyalty business."

Grey said a Metropolitan Police team which specialises in the communication of false information, particularly via the internet, is investigating the e-mail following a complaint by the agency on Tuesday.

A number of agency managers and senior clients, including the Grey chairman, Ed Meyer, Michael Baulk at AMV BBDO and Nigel Bogle at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, have received the e-mail. It purports to have been sent by Lace on Saturday afternoon from a hotmail address.

In an all-staff agency meeting on Monday, Lace said the e-mail had resulted in very great damage to its relationship with Air Miles with serious implications for the agency and its business plan.

Lace refused to comment further, saying only that "a hoax e-mail was sent out at the weekend and I'm currently talking to the police about it".

The e-mail debacle comes at a difficult time for Grey. The £55 million global account for the Pedigree Petfood dog food brands recently defected to TBWA\Worldwide.

However, Carolyn Carter, the president of the Grey Global Group for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Lace continued to enjoy the group's confidence.

She said: "Garry has denied the allegations. I believe someone is innocent until proven guilty."

Lace, 36, a colourful and sometimes controversial figure, has been credited with energising the lacklustre Grey. But in doing so, he axed a fifth of its workforce. "Garry has made a lot of friends," a Grey source said. "But it's clear he also has a few enemies."

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