Mike Ashley enters talks to buy struggling music store chain HMV and eyes new PR team

Callum Keown
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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley with Keith Bishop (left) and Justin Barnes (centre) at St James' Park yesterday (Source: Getty)

Mike Ashley is looking to strengthen his grip on the high street by entering talks to buy struggling music store HMV while searching for a new communications firm to oversee his expanding retail empire.

The ambitious business tycoon, who has bought House of Fraser and Evans Cycles in the past six months, is bidding to rescue HMV from administration, according to Sky News.

He is also eyeing up a new public relations team as he widens his retail portfolio.

City PR chiefs told City A.M. appetite in the industry to work for Ashley would be mixed. The controversial billionaire owns Newcastle United and once described himself as a "PR nightmare".

Sports Direct, which Ashley controls, got rid of its controlling stake in PR firm Keith Bishop Associates – owned by Ashley’s friend Keith Bishop – last week, according to filings at Companies House.

It is understood the company will continue to deal with Ashley’s personal matters as well as those relating to Newcastle United but another firm will take on corporate and retail work.

One top City spinner told City A.M.: “A lot of people think he’s quite toxic.

“With big characters like that, as we have seen with Philip Green, they can be hard to control and can be more trouble than they’re worth.”

They added that a smaller company would most likely “take on” Ashley as it would boost their profile.

Another said: “You would have to be up for working for a pugnacious character.

“If you want to go in a different direction strategically, that’s going to be pretty hard to do – he would want to control as much as possible.”

PR insiders also said that a new communications team would have to deal with issues of corporate governance and transparency at Ashley's businesses.

HMV collapsed last month, entering its second administration in six years and putting 2,200 jobs across 125 stores at risk.

Administrator KPMG is expected to decide on a preferred bidder by the end of this week. It declined to comment.

Ashley, who has rushed to the aid of a number of struggling retailers in recent months as well as building stakes in rivals Debenhams and French Connection, has emerged as a potential bidder.

In a fiery appearance in front of a parliamentary committee last month, Ashley urged the government to be tougher on online retailers in order to save traditional high street shopping.

Mike Ashley's greatest hits

* At a Sports Direct management meeting, held at a pub, Ashley drank 12 pints and vomited into a fireplace after challenging a young analyst to a drinking competition, a court heard in 2017.

* In the same court case it was claimed Ashley found business meetings so boring he would “take a nap” under the table and he would to decide who would pay legal fees.

* MPs were left incensed in November 2016 when Sports Direct staff tried to spy on them using a camera hidden under a plate of sandwiches on a surprise visit to investigate conditions at a company warehouse.

* The sportswear tycoon produced wads of £50 notes in front of journalists on a visit the company’s Shirebrook warehouse following claims workers were being paid below the minimum wage. “I’ve been to the casino,” he joked as he emptied his pockets before going through a security scanner, adding “please don’t write that.”

* The self-proclaimed “power drinker” stripped down to his boxers during a boozy night out at a Chinese restaurant, as he performed karaoke at an employee’s birthday party in 2011.