WPP CEO Martin Sorrell momentarily found himself on both sides of Kraft Heinz’s takeover bid of Unilever, according to a report from the Financial Times.
The public relations company Finsbury, acquired by WPP in 2001, was hired by Kraft Heinz to advise it on the takeover bid. But the consumer goods company on the other side of the bid, which owns brands like Dove and Axe, was already a WPP client, to the tune of a $US8.3 billion ad spend in 2014, according to AdAge.
According to the FT, the conflict quickly ended after Unilever CEO Paul Polman discovered it and sent an email complaining to Sorrell. Finsbury was removed from Kraft Heinz account after the exchange betweeen the two CEOs and replaced by the consulting firm FTI Consulting.
Unilever was represented by the independent PR firm Tulchan.
One PR executive told the Financial Times: “I just don’t think anyone [at Finsbury] thought about the Unilever clash and because it all happened so quickly Martin probably didn’t know what [Finsbury founder] Roland Rudd was doing.”
This series of events highlights the conflicts of interest communication and advertising groups face as they expand.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Publicis CEO Maurice Levy said: “Since a few years we are seeing some blurring lines when it comes to conflict of interest and sometimes it is going too far.”
“When it comes to operations like a takeover, we have to be extremely clear to support a longtime client,” he added.
WPP declined to comment on the report.
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