IPG, Mullen Hold Talks

Interpublic Group of Cos. has its sights set on yet another New England shop.
Sources last week said Mullen, the largest independent agency in the region, is in talks to be acquired by the New York-based holding company that just one year ago bought Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos.
Chief executive officer Jim Mullen last week denied that a sale of his 29-year-old shop is imminent, but did say “there’s not a major, acquisition-minded organization” that he hasn’t talked to recently.
“I talked with someone at Foote, Cone & Belding on Saturday, and I have definitely talked to IPG, Omnicom and two organizations in Canada,” Mullen said. “At some point, we’ve talked to everybody. We remain an independent agency today.”
As of last week, however, Mullen said that aside from money, no potential suitor had sufficiently answered how the sale of his agency would benefit its clients and employees.
One source said Mullen is interested in IPG because of its “hands-off” approach to managing its agencies. In addition, Mullen could benefit from access to international resources. One Mullen client–the Stanley Works in New Britain, Conn.–is conducting a review for a European assignment.
Sources said there is no thought within IPG of merging Hill, Holliday with Mullen, which would likely report to the holding company through Lowe & Partners in New York. IPG executives declined comment.
Jim Mullen last week reiterated the long-held and widely shared belief that he has a “fiduciary responsibility” to his employees to explore any offer he receives. “That’s my job.”
Asked whether his shop’s independent status would change in the next few days or weeks, Mullen said no, but added, “at some point, it’s inevitable.”
IPG already has sizable holdings in New England. Besides Hill, Holliday, the company owns the region’s largest public relations agency, now operated as Weber Public Relations Worldwide through McCann-Erickson WorldGroup.
Mullen, which reported revenues of $38 million on billings of $254 million in 1998, is the largest independent ad agency in New England since the sales last year of Hill, Holliday and Arnold Communications.
–with Noreen O’Lear