DIARY: Belt-tightening forces Sorrell and Hornby to invite takeover gossip

Some of you may have noticed a ripple of excitement at the Marketing Society dinner last Monday night.

No, it wasn't the BP chief executive Sir John Brown's speech that was attracting all the attention (by some accounts it attracted barely any attention at all). The source of the kerfuffle was, of all things, the table plan.

For there in the Great Room sat Clemmow Hornby Inge's Johnny Hornby, looking resplendent, successful, full of new-business leads and particularly vulnerable to a surprise takeover bid. And who should be sitting next to him? None other than advertising's "Mr Blank Cheque" himself, Sir Martin Sorrell. Quicker than you could say "for God's sake, let them eat in peace" the rumour mill had burst into life and "I don't believe it! WPP is buying CHI!" became the utterance of the moment.

Despite their persistent denials, everyone refused to believe that Hornby and Sir Martin were merely making sexy chit chat and the two of them spent the rest of the meal batting away journalists, well-wishers and nosy acquaintances.

Well, there's nothing Campaign hates more than unfounded rumours, so we feel it is up to us to shed some light on the incident. Both parties were motivated not by deal-making, but good, old-fashioned stinginess.

Recession bite led the two companies independently to opt for a half table, neither side knowing with whom they would be rubbing elbows until they got there.

Meanwhile Brown rumbled through his speech during which he touched on a subject close to his heart: corporate social responsibility. Rumours that Sorrell choked on his petit four at the mere mention of it have yet to be confirmed.

It would appear that corporate social responsibility is not quite as close to the heart of WPP's chief executive as it is to that of its BP client, according to last week's Business in the Community survey in which WPP was listed too close to the bottom for comfort.


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