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Bell Pottinger spin drama isn’t resolved yet

Tim Bell’s getaway plane has received permission to take off from the control tower and is now taxiing down the runaway. But will it actually manage lift off, or be bought back to earth with a pancake landing? Sadly, we’ll only know the answer on June 18th, date of the next gripping episode of this increasingly bizarre soap opera.

The story so far. Bell (pictured), outwardly the bluff, iconic, chairman of highly successful communications company Chime, is inwardly tormented by thoughts of long-deferred retirement. How can this man of three score years and ten enjoy his autumnal felicity without undermining the standing of the company in which has invested so much? Initially in greatest secrecy, he and his boon companion Piers (whose own thoughts have been moving in the same direction) plot their escape – and come up with a foolproof plan to fund their retirement. What they’ll do is take with them a teensy weensy bit of the company’s business and call it their own; so small in fact that shareholders won’t really notice it has gone.

After discreet soundings, it turns out that other members of the board are of a similar opinion, though for slightly different reasons. They’ve never much liked the core element of their perfectly respectable business being termed the Dark Arts; and have long since wondered how to pension the old boy off, without him making too much fuss. What a gift that Tim’s exit plan should, in a trice, rid them of both concerns!

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The problem is, shareholders are not at all of the same opinion – on the contrary, some persist in the delusion, cultivated assiduously over the years by Tim himself, that the dark arts are absolutely vital to the company’s wellbeing. And without their assent, nothing is going to happen. At this stage someone (necessarily anonymously – after all, we are talking about a publicly quoted company here) comes up with a brilliant flash of inspiration. Why not confide the details of this plan – in strictest confidence of course – to Tim’s journalist mate, Mark? That way, everyone will know about it ASAP, and it can be presented to shareholders as a fait accompli, without the need for interminable negotiations to gain their consent.

In due course, a fully fledged management buyout document for Tim’s getaway vehicle, BPP, makes its appearance. It’s going to cost a very reasonable £19.6m, this new company. Reasonable for Tim and his friends, because that’s not an awful lot of money for what turns out to be five healthy PR subsidiaries. Reasonable for the board as well, because quite a lot of that £19.6m is going to be in cash, heading straight for the bottom line. And should it turn out that Tim and Piers have, unaccountably, been a little economical with their profit projections? Never mind, because Chime will still have a 25 per cent stake in those profits – as holder of 4.1 million BPP shares.

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So, perfect all round. But wait a minute, some of the shareholders are none too happy… one rather loud but diminutive individual is crying “Stitch up”.

Cut to runway again. A large fleet of dark-windowed Ford Mondeos is heading at high speed towards the accelerating aircraft. Will it be airborne in time? Find out on June 18th…

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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