Lord Bell set for battle with WPP over Bell Pottinger buyout plan


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The Independent Online

Lord Bell is poised to spell out plans for his controversial buyout of the PR firm Bell Pottinger at the annual meeting of parent company Chime Communications this Wednesday, in the face of fierce opposition.

Chime's leading shareholder, Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP, has said the sell-off "sets a terrible precedent". It will get a second seat on the board after upping its stake to above 20 per cent.

It is understood that WPP's deputy finance director, Chris Sweetland, is being lined up as a new director of Chime.

Lord Bell launched the plan to buy out a part of the PR firm he co-founded in January, after a run of bad publicity, including The Independent's revelations about Bell Pottinger's lobbying activities in Whitehall last December.

Lord Bell has so far given few details of the plan.

Any buyout would need the support of at least 50.1 per cent of Chime shareholders. The biggest investors after WPP are Fidelity with 11 per cent, JP Morgan Asset Management with 6.8 per cent, Aberforth Partners on 6 per cent and Brandes Investment Partners and BlackRock, both with nearly4 per cent.

There is no certainty that Chime will go ahead with a sell-off – it would require approval at an extraordinary general meeting.

According to PR Week's newly published annual survey, Bell Pottinger remains Britain's biggest public relations group, despite a7 per cent slide in revenues to £68m last year.