EDITORIAL: Makeover best for 'crippled' Cordiant

The acquisitive head of a major communications group recently delivered his private and politically incorrect verdict on the respective charms of Grey and Cordiant. "I like to think of them as two ladies," he said.

"Grey is middle aged and not very sexy but might not look too bad if she lost a little weight and with a paper bag over her head." And Cordiant?

"So crippled and ugly that you wouldn't even fancy her for a one-night stand."

Nobody, it seems, has a kind word to say about the beleaguered Cordiant, whose pre-tax profits halved to £11.5 million in the first six months of the year. Even with the world advertising market still in a deep slump, this was a spectacularly dismal performance.

Michael Bungey, Cordiant's chief executive, will step down next year.

Cordiant understandably presents this as part of a planned succession.

Famously dubbed "Teflon man", he now finds too much of the brown stuff sticking to him. For many his passing will go unmourned. Particularly by all those Cordiant staffers who have picked up redundancy cheques while his remuneration package rose by 16 per cent to £821,000 last year.

Five years after its demerger from the Saatchi & Saatchi group, Cordiant is a mess. It can never hope to compete with the communications supergroups because it lacks both the critical mass and the global accounts to provide its raison d'etre. Mars once glued the Cordiant-owned Bates network together.

It was a catastrophic misreading of the confectionery-to-petfood giant's intentions which led to the loss of the business in the wake of Maurice Saatchi's ousting.

Today, Cordiant is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The group has little future as a standalone operation but can't be bought while the poorly performing share prices of potential suitors rule out any likely bids. Bungey must shoulder much of the blame for this. The group has been bedevilled by too many hirings of people who haven't been up to the job and reporting lines which have often been unclear. Unpleasant but necessary confrontations have been avoided, and only now is Cordiant addressing the paucity of Americans at senior level.

It's an unenviable task to which David Hearn, Bungey's heir apparent, must now apply himself. Cordiant's best hope is to find enough regional and local business with which to keep its head above water in the hope that Havas' share price recovers sufficiently for it to mount a bid. Hearn's best hope is to apply some powder and lipstick to add what allure he can.

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