Lord Bell issues Chime profit warning and stonewalls on Easyjet queries as PR buyout is agreed

It has indeed been a busy old day at Chime Communications’ AGM as chairman Lord Bell says the board has agreed his plan to buy out the Bell Pottinger PR businesses (it’s not clear if the two WPP board directors voted for or against) at the same time as he issued a profit warning, citing lost revenue in the aforementioned businesses.

Bell says the Bell Pottinger deal will be based on 2011 PR profits, before it lost a huge US Department of Defense account, the main reason behind the surprise profit warning.

But he refused to answer questions from EasyGroup PR boss Richard Shackleton who queried the purchase of Simon Gulliford’s marketing consultancy for a maximum of £4.75m. Shackleton, representing Easyjet founder, major shareholder and opponent of the current board Stelios Haji-Ioannou, wanted to know why Chime had paid so much for a company whose only recent business seems to have been advising Easyjet on the choice of a new ad agency, which turned out to be Chime-owned VCCP.

Bell cited commercial confidentiality and referred to Easyjet’s own findings that the choice of VCCP was ‘fair and transparent.’ Shackleton was able to attend the meeting as Stelios’ EasyGroup has bought £20,000 of shares in Chime.

Earlier today Chime announced it had bought Brazilian sports marketing business Golden Goal for a maximum £9.5m. From being a PR-based group Chime is now split more or less equally between PR, advertising (VCCP) and sports marketing under the CSM banner. If Bell and longstanding business partner Piers Pottinger succeed in buying the half a dozen or so Bell Pottinger PR agencies then Chime will be a more conventional marketing services business.

As such it may well prove irresistible to ever-acquisitive WPP.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.