Would-be buyers stoke row over PR firm's sale

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The Independent Online
THE ROW over the sale of the businesses of Corporate Communications within minutes of the public relations group's collapse has intensified after at least four companies said they might have bid for its businesses if they had been put on offer.

Ian Bond and Christopher Hughes, of Cork Gully, were appointed receivers on Thursday morning, and immediately announced the sale of the group's investors relations side, Georgeson International, and public relations division, Charles Barker, to their respective managements.

A few hours later the financial advertising operation was sold to Citigate. The sale of two other small businesses is due to be announced soon.

Lowe Bell, the UK's second- largest PR firm, said yesterday that it would have wanted to buy Charles Barker in the UK. Piers Pottinger, chairman of Lowe Bell Financial, said: 'We certainly would have looked at it. I'm surprised it was not offered to us.'

A director of Burson-Marsteller, the giant US group, is understood to have sent a memo to its board recommending it make an approach for Georgeson. But Burson found it had already been sold.

In addition, another large British public relations firm, Dewe Rogerson, and Hill and Knowlton, the US group, have contacted Cork Gully to ask why the businesses were not put on offer. It is believed that both Shandwick and Countrywide Communications have expressed an interest.

A director of one of the largest firms said he estimated that Charles Barker alone was worth between pounds 4m and pounds 5m. It is understood to have been sold for about half that.

Mr Bond said Cork Gully was informally involved in talks about selling the operations to Corporate Communications' management before the receivers were appointed.

He defended the sales, saying that if the businesses had not been sold within 24 hours they would have been worthless because rivals would have poached the best staff and clients.

One unsecured creditor, owed about pounds 50,000, said yesterday he was taking legal advice to see whether some of the transactions would be reversed.

'I have good legal advice that we can have the transactions set aside,' he said. The case may rest on the fact that Bank of Scotland, the largest creditor, is also backing the buyouts.

The Newspaper Publishers Association is also to have a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the collapse and see what action can be taken.

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