Prospective buyers line up to compete for Cordiant assets

The fate of the beleaguered Cordiant could be resolved within the next few days, although its future ownership - or even survival - remains an open question.

Industry sources say the group is in advanced negotiations with a number of interested parties including Publicis Groupe, led by its chairman, Maurice Levy, venture capitalists and other communication supergroups.

Insiders say any sale is complicated by the desire of David Hearn, Cordiant's chief executive, to sell the group's core operations, including the Bates network and the marketing services specialist 141, as a package.

Cordiant is understood to be reluctant to dispose of 141 separately for fear that Bates, with few significant pieces of global business, will become unsellable.

A major turn-off for potential bidders is Cordiant's £250 million worth of debt.

A key factor will be the attitude of the group's bankers, who have agreed to provide continuing financial support until 15 July. They must decide if they will "take a hit" on some of the debt to give the Cordiant companies a secure future.

A key question is whether potential buyers such as Publicis, which would like 141 to plug its weakness in marketing services, will wait to see if Cordiant goes into administration to get the specialist operation at a knock-down price.