Public image will decide M&S victor

The battle for Marks & Spencer pits one brilliant retailer with a dire public image, Philip Green, against a much less obviously talented retailer with a brilliant public image, Stuart Rose.

Though the contest is not over yet, the betting in the City is that the best public image will win.

Many would say Rose deserves his chance if only because of the effort he has put into burnishing his public image. When he was unemployed, he wined, dined and won over the retail correspondents of the national press – the three key ones at any rate. At the same time, there was a steady trickle of stories undermining Roger Holmes and the incumbent team at M&S.

Perhaps, as a result, no one has seriously commented on the lack of anything notable happening during Rose’s time at Bookers, or the focus on cutting loss makers rather than growing sales at Arcadia. Given he is trying to take on a business four times the size of anything he has run before, this is an interesting indulgence.

Green comes out of this rather well. It’s one of his endearing traits that he sees himself as the life and soul of the party and is generally quite oblivious as the adjacent grey suits recoil in horror. That said, no one in this country has ever put down £1bn of their own money in pursuit of a takeover bid, and the fact that he has done that and persuaded bankers to back him with an additional £9bn means, win or lose, he will never be talked of dismissively again.

M&S seems to have realised this because its PR strategy has changed tone. Whereas in the early stages the guidance played up the buffoonery of the bidder, once the second offer had been rejected, it became much more respectful.

Flattering the opponent is an interesting gambit but it is risky. If for whatever reason Rose fails to deliver in double-quick time, there is now no doubt who shareholders would turn to.

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