Bunhill: Vodafone to sponsor Derby

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IT WAS a story after Jeff Randall's heart, for it combined the twin passions of the City editor of the Sunday Times: the City and racing. Vodafone, he was informed by a source, was to sponsor the Derby over the next three years to the tune of something over pounds 1m a year.

Randall's man Andrew Lorenz sought confirmation from Vodafone, which promptly denied the rumour. But Randall had also phoned Alan Parker (son of Sir Peter), senior partner of Brunswick, one of the City's leading public relations agencies.

Brunswick does not act for Vodafone, but does work for Sir Ernest Harrison, chairman of Racal, Vodafone's parent, and for the Racecourse Holding Trust. Parker refused to confirm or deny any of the possible sponsors, including Vodafone.

When Vodafone duly announced the sponsorship deal early last week Randall went nuclear. He even sent out a memo to his staff telling them not to deal with Brunswick but to deal direct with the firm's clients - a blue-chip list ranging from Barclays Bank to ICI. His basic attitude is: 'We would not have done this over one instance. We have decided that it is no longer in the interests of Sunday Times readers to have City and business news filtered through Brunswick.'

That's all he'll say in public, but apparently Randall was adding phrases like 'deeply pissed off . . . not a fit of pique, it was simply the straw that broke the camel's back'.

Apparently Randall was especially 'pissed off' because the matter did not concern price-sensitive information. Unlike a forthcoming rights issue or profits warning, it didn't really affect the shareholders or the employees - if it had, then Vodafone would have been entitled to discretion under the arcane rules that govern the relationship between journalists and PR agencies.

For his part, Parker is keeping even mummer, in accordance with his firm's maxim that 'we don't come between the client and the footlights'.

Both sides are taking the spat rather more seriously than Brunswick's clients.

One of them, Richard Power, director of corporate affairs at Forte, said simply: 'We're buying brains, not contacts . . . in normal circumstances, I prefer to deal direct with journalists . . . both Jeff and Alan are good friends of mine, and I hope they get together very soon.'