The Art of the Deal

By Scott Hume

CHICAGO–Speculation about acquisitions and mergers among the upper echelons of multinational agencies and their holding companies was rampant last week. At the center is True North Communications.

Free from his obligations to Publicis, TN chairman Bruce Mason made no bones about his desire for a deal, and a big one. ‘We’ve done some deals, but we haven’t done a big one,’ said Mason. ‘One reason was that before, Publicis could have blocked any acquisition. With our settlement (with Publicis), the impediments are gone and I think it’s safe to say we are looking to make an acquisition.

‘If a year from now we haven’t done that, you can put my feet to the fire,’ he said. ‘

Morgan Stanley & Co. in New York has been guiding TN’s acquisition hunt.

Bozell Worldwide, which one Wall Street analyst called ‘the prettiest girl left at the dance,’ remains a possible merger partner for TN. Both parties admit to having held exploratory talks in the past, but those discussions led nowhere.

But Bozell is not the only possible partner. All the multinational agencies are looking for ways to build their global networks as clients realign assignments. Mason declined any comment about which agencies TN may be interested in.

The one-year contract renewal given Mason last year expires in June, but that is not considered a deadline for any deal. With turnover in the TN board of directors, Mason is assured of a contract renewal, insiders said. Directors Craig Wiggins and Jack Balousek, who sought Mason’s ouster last year, are gone. Publicis chairman Maurice Levy is leaving (although Lazard Freres managing director Ali Wambold will act as Levy’s proxy on the board).

Chief financial officer Terry Ashwill left TN in March and three other directors–Newton Minow, William Shreyer and Louis Scott–will retire in May. Nominated as new directors are retired Kraft General Foods executive Richard Mayer and Sara Lee Corp. executive Michael Murphy. They would join directors Gregory Blaine, Richard Braddock, Laurel Cutler and Brendan Ryan.

–with Hank Kim

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED