WPP is mounting a rearguard action to keep the £75 million BSkyB account within the agency network.
Sources close to the account at United London concede that its relationship with Sky is likely to be measured in weeks, not months.
Robert Campbell, the co-managing partner, has been banned from working on the account by the broadcaster. Nor is United's planning director, Richard Huntington, involved on the business any longer, following a disagreement with Sky's design agency, Venture 3.
WPP has formulated a plan to create "Team Sky" to run the account from one of its London offices, most likely Grey, now that Grey's AOL account looks set to move to Clemmow Hornby Inge.
The WPP chairman, Sir Martin Sorrell, enjoys close ties with the Sky chief executive, James Murdoch, who sources say favours a WPP solution. However, Sky's chief marketing officer, Jon Florsheim, and the brand marketing and sales director, Charles Ponsonby, are said to be pressing for an open pitch.
Although "Team Sky" will most likely operate out of Grey, Ogilvy & Mather's new central London conflict shop could also potentially handle the account.
Sky's expected departure places a question-mark over the future of United. It will leave the agency with billings of around £20 million, and will inevitably lead to redundancies and transfers of staff to other WPP agencies.
A source close to United says Campbell and his co-managing partner, Jim Kelly, want to remain at the agency and run it as a start-up, albeit in a much smaller form than it currently operates. The pair bought a 25 per cent share of the agency for just £15,000 at the beginning of the year.
Comment, page 44.
RUNNERS AND RIDERS
Team Sky - A group of WPP staffers, but most likely a offshoot of its Grey agency.
Clemmow Hornby Inge - CHI's chances of winning the business have been weakened by its Carphone Warehouse client's move into broadband, presenting a significant conflict with BSkyB's broadband offer.
WCRS - WCRS has held talks with BSkyB. However, there is potential conflict with its 3 account, as well as with the BBC, should the agency succeed in its current pitch.
Venture 3 - The design agency enjoys a healthy relationship with BSkyB. Sources close to the company suggest it could set up an ad capability to secure some of BSkyB's account.