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Business Comment

James Moore: First blood goes to Lord Bell in battle of the heavy hitters


Outlook Seconds out: round two. Chime Communications yesterday unveiled the terms of the sale of its public relations and lobbying businesses to Lord Bell, who is also Chime's chairman, for close to £20m.

So that's first blood for his lordship, who has secured the deal in the teeth of opposition from that other well-known, media heavy hitter, Sir Martin Sorrell.

Sir Martin ranks below Lord Bell in titles, but when it comes to dust-ups he's a bigger puncher as boss of the media conglomerate WPP, which just happens to hold 20 per cent of Chime's shares, which he will use to try to vote down the deal.

Is this a fight he wants though? Lord Bell's staff won't need much in the way of the "dark arts" some of them they talked of using to undercover journalists to point out Sir Martin has another, rather more serious, battle on his hands.

Yesterday, Pirc became the second major voting adviser to urge clients to reject WPP's remuneration report thanks in part due to Sir Martin's eye-popping £12.9m package last year.

Pirc sees the company's habit of matching executive investments in WPP shares on a five-for-one basis as just a teensy bit excessive. Not least because the concession is granted every year and so rather immunises executives from the consequences of overpaying for acquisitions. Which WPP has been wont to do if its writedowns are anything to go by.

It might be hard to cheer for either party in the dust-up over Chime. Much easier to pick sides when it comes to the fight Sir Martin faces with his own shareholders at WPP's forthcoming annual meeting.