City & Corporate: Misguided strategy costs Seifert dear

When the first bid for the London Stock Exchange was launched at the turn of the year, I said in this column that it would be a battle for hearts and minds more than price.

Exchanges may pretend that they are just like other firms, but they still have emotive appeal. People who would never even turn to a business page twitched when they heard that the LSE might fall into foreign hands.

This week the man who started the battle, Werner Seifert, pulled out.

His PR strategy, he said in December, was to move the debate from price to the issue of securities trading and the benefit that would flow to European business if it had a modern integrated securities market. But he failed to make that the issue and was derailed, in part, by anti-German sentiment in sections of the press.

But the bigger issue was the internal contradiction that Frankfurt was making a bid to become the securities centre of Europe, while its own shareholders were protesting that Deutsche Boerse's corporate governance laws and associated practices were old fashioned. This was the ultimate mixed message and there was very little that PR could do.

Could it have been different? Seifert devoted a huge amount of time to preparing the ground for his bid, but he still seems to have been wrong-footed by the coolness with which it was received.

He expected a recommendation and he was rebuffed. He made a strategic error in launching just before Christmas because it meant that, after an initial flurry, things went dead for three weeks.

The bid did give me one unforgettable moment when one Sunday afternoon, for reasons which need not be enlarged upon in PRWeek, I was standing in a dung heap at exactly the moment when Seifert called me on my mobile.

'Is this a good time to call?' he enquired. 'It's very appropriate Werner.

If you have read the papers you will know we are both up to our knees in it.'

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