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IPG Mulls Draft, FCB Merger

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NEW YORK Interpublic Group is in serious talks to bring together Draft and Foote Cone & Belding, sources said.

Several scenarios are still under discussion, including forming an alliance under a so-called mini holding company similar to McCann's Worldgroup. But the more likely scenario, sources said, is a merger between the two agencies.

At one point, IPG planned to reveal the move during its daylong presentation to analysts in New York on March 27. But sources said the financial logistics of a combined operation, among other factors, were still being worked out and that delayed any announcement.

Still at issue, sources said, is whether Draft CEO Howard Draft, who founded the direct-marketing agency in 1978, would lead the combined entity or if FCB CEO Steve Blamer, who joined the IPG shop in June from Grey, would end up in the top slot.

Several sources pointed to Draft as the front-runner after having built a successful company (with 40 offices and 3,000 employees worldwide) that is widely considered to be a leader in its sector while FCB (with 190 offices and 6,000 employees) lags behind its agency peers in global reach and international clients.

A merger between the two would expand each shop's offering to better provide more integrated solutions to clients.

Some sources described the move as "likely," but another cautioned that there are "still too many wild card variables" for it to considered a done deal.

Sources said the timetable for a resolution of the plan is mid to late May. Talks among the involved executives began in earnest about two months ago.

Neither Draft nor Blamer could be reached for comment.

An IPG representative said late Wednesday, "Clients are increasingly looking to us to deliver integrated communications programs with best-in-class capabilities across the marketing disciplines. We must have multiple agency models to address this need. Therefore, we regularly engage with the CEOs of our operating units to think about the best ways to align our various assets. At this time, we do not have any announcements to make and we do not comment on market rumors."

Should IPG proceed with Draft as the lead horse, it may be the first time a below-the-line company assumes control of a traditional agency of the size and scope of FCB.