Bill Grizack and The Fraud That Shocked The Ad World

How One Man Fabricated Million-Dollar Account Wins

Bill Grizack
Bill Grizack. News Observer

You may have heard the name Bill Grizack by now. The 42-year old ad strategist was recently sentenced to 5-7 years I prison for faking $269 million in client contracts and account wins.

But how did he do it and why? Let’s explore the curious case of William John “Bill” Grizack, and his rollercoaster ride in the ad business.

If you take a look at Grizack’s LinkedIn page (which is still up by the way) you can see he took a seemingly legitimate, but unusual, path to success.

Starting out as a product manager at Ingersoll Rand, he then went on to do brand marketing for Electrolux.

At that time, Grizack became a co-founder of SimpliFi, and several years later became the owner of ReadyBike. And then…boom. In 2010, Grizack became Chief Strategy Officer at The Variable (formerly known as Pave). Quite a significant jump.

What’s amusing is Grizack’s entry on this role: “it was my job to invent the future of creative advertising strategy.”

Invent is a prophetic term, as Grizack would go on to invent millions of dollars in client contracts that never existed.

Big Lies to Land a Big Role

After landing a job at Pave, Grizack wanted to become a partner. Obviously, that brings with it a certain amount of power, a significant pay increase, and a lot of other benefits. But companies do not simply hand out partnerships on a whim. In the case of Pave, Grizack either had to give the firm $150,000, or bring in at least $500,000 in new business.

And he didn’t have long to do it.

So, Grizack decided to do what most of us would never even consider; he fabricated client contracts, using a software program he created that he called “revolutionary.”

At first, Grizack was actually bringing in some decent new business. But, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.

With a deadline looming, and both greed and desperation sitting on his shoulders, Grizack decided to fake the account wins.

Using fake contracts, fake email addresses, fake phone numbers, and a whole lot of other fake documentation, Grizack was able to convince the top brass at Pave that he had landed two enormous contracts….Coca-Cola, and Brown-Forman (makes of liquors including Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort). They represented a combined $269 million to Pave.

It wasn’t surprising then that Grizack received the promotion to partner, and with it a whopping $165,000 pay raise, a $65,000 Audi Q7, and $22,500 in 401k contributions.

The Fallout of the Great Grizack Fabrication

You cannot simply invent $269 million in client contracts and not see a huge knock-on effect. Pave executives acted on the news of the contracts by bringing in a firm called McKinney Ventures. This company transferred $1.5 million to Pave, and recruited 40 employees nationwide to handle all the new (but fake) contracts. They also hired Grizack, and paid him an annual $250,000 salary.

When Pave executives finally discovered the fraud in 2013, he was let go. But he did not stay down for very long, finding employment as executive director at Egg Strategy.

And once again, Grizack began to falsify contracts. Scott Harkey, a financial crimes prosecutor with the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, said Grizack created a $14 million contract with McDonald’s. The company received an anonymous tip that the McDonald’s account was fake, and he was fired. But even when he was let go from Egg Strategy, he went on to work at Dailey Advertising.

In fact, as AgencySpy reported in March, Grizack was working right up until the time of his guilty plea, and in the months before admitting to his fraud , Grizack was a freelance strategist at Venables Bell & Partners, and Goody Silverstein & Partners. He was even offered a full-time job at VB&P, although the offer was revoked when they discovered he was about to become a convicted felon and serve 5-7 years in jail.

But while Grizack prospered, other people suffered. And when the deception began to unravel, people started losing their jobs. It is estimated that Grizack’s lies cost both The Variable (Pave) and McKinney some $4 million.

Keith Vest, president at The Variable, was livid with his former work colleague. “Grizack was not out to please anyone. He is a con man who is addicted to lying," said Vest. "We don't want to see Grizack do this to other companies…he conned the company he worked for before us. He conned us and McKinney. The company he moved to after ours was able to uncover his deceit before it went too far."

How Did Grizack Keep Working?

Now that the dust has cleared somewhat, and Grizack is in prison, there’s a question that has to be asked, and answered.

Just how did Bill Grizack keep successfully pulling the wool over the eyes of his employers? After all, these are all intelligent individuals that work with multi-million dollar contracts every year.

Grizack clearly had charisma, and enough knowledge of the system that he knew how to fabricate contracts and convince others they were genuine. But was no one ever curious about the new business? Didn’t anyone want to meet the brass from Coca-Cola, Brown-Forman, or McDonald’s? After all, when you win an account, it’s customary to bring the new client into the offices for a sit down with the company.

What we can only assume here it that people so wanted to believe in these big wins that they did not dare question it. This was a lot of money. Millions of dollars, huge pay raises for all concerned, a larger workforce, more stability, and the prospect of a very lucrative future. To dare ask “wait…this is all legit, right?” is asking a question that no one wants to hear the real answer to. By asking the question, you are, in effect, suggesting that you know this may not be above board. If you know, why don’t you do something about it? Better to stay quiet and enjoy the rewards.

The judge who sentenced Grizack called out the victims in this case, saying “There is just a small amount of gullibility and greed on the part of the victims…I hope you will take this as a hard-earned lesson."

Moving forward, in the short term at least, everyone in the advertising and marketing industries will be vigilant about new account wins; especially those that carry huge bonuses for the person bringing in the account. But over time, the vigilance will fade, and the fraud will happen again. There will definitely be another Bill Grizack ready to defraud companies out of millions of dollars. And sadly, there will be companies ready to hand over that money on the prospect of untold riches from massive contracts. Watch this space.