Campaigns: Scholar scores his Forest goal - Takeover Bid

Client: Bridgford plc (Phil Soar, Irving Scholar, Nigel Wray)
PR Team: Nina Gardiner and Associates
Campaign: Takeover bid for Nottingham Forest Football Club
Timescale: October 1996 - February 1997
Budget: pounds 15,000

Client: Bridgford plc (Phil Soar, Irving Scholar, Nigel Wray)

PR Team: Nina Gardiner and Associates

Campaign: Takeover bid for Nottingham Forest Football Club

Timescale: October 1996 - February 1997

Budget: pounds 15,000



In September 1996 Nottingham Forest FC found themselves with a

pounds 5 million debt growing to pounds 8 million in February

1997. Despite the big bucks being ploughed into football

elsewhere, Forest’s constitution meant that renewed investment

was difficult unless the club could be sold; but the club could

not be sold unless 75 per cent of its 209 pounds 1 shareholders

could be persuaded that the takeover was in the best interests of

their club.



Objectives



To gain the shareholders’ trust and persuade them to vote for

Bridgford plc, rather than one of the number of other groups

bidding for Forest.



Tactics



This was an unusual and precisely targeted campaign since, as

long as they didn’t affect the opinions of the shareholders, the

views of the general public were irrelevant: only the 209 votes

counted.



The campaign was carried out on two fronts: an election style

’meet and greet’, shaking hands offensive, combined with a

campaign in the popular press to ensure that the shareholders

were surrounded by people advising them to vote for the

Soar/Scholar bid.



Secret lunch meetings were arranged in Nottingham pubs for small

groups of shareholders where they were introduced to the

consortium and any fears about the consortium were allayed. The

meetings helped to humanise the consortium, while Scholar’s

passion for football and Soar’s Nottingham roots were stressed.

Price Waterhouse, employed as advisers by the Forest board, along

with most of the fans, backed a rival bid from Sandy Anderson,

boss of the Derby based Porterbrook Group, which again put

Soar/Scholar at a disadvantage. However the consortium knew that

if they kept up their personalised grass roots campaign, they

would win the trust of the shareholders.



The campaign’s other thrust was conducted through local and

national press. Soar and Scholar knew that shareholders would

seek advice from colleagues and friends about who to vote for,

and these other constituencies could not be completely

discounted. The takeover received huge coverage in both financial

and sports pages as the takeover battle became increasingly

bitter and convoluted. When Soar and Scholar’s main financier,

Lawrie Lewis, pulled out, a frantic search ensued to find a new

funding source.



Eventually they found it in high profile millionaire

property-to-television tycoon, Nigel Wray.



Results



Wray was portrayed as Forest’s saviour in the Sun and other

papers as the battle came to a close in January. The PR team had

built close relations with the Daily Mail, the Express and the

Sun, and as the final shareholders’ meeting loomed the press had

been won over after five months of campaigning.



In frustration at the stalemate, and the desperate need for new

finance, the shareholders voted by 189 to 7 in favour of

accepting the Bridgford consortium’s offer.



Verdict



NGA’s campaign was the only one to focus on the group that

mattered: the shareholders. During the takeover battle the joke

in Nottingham was that 97 per cent of the city were against the

Bridgford bid, but the three per cent who were for it were the

shareholders. The press coverage was extensive and largely

positive which helped to overcome the initial anti-Scholar

feelings. The combination of face-to-face meetings and patient

lobbying of press and public paid off and the end result was a

landslide victory.



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