CHICAGO - Fresh from its acquisition of BJK&E, True North Communications is in "active conversations" about additional acquisitions, according to TN chief executive Bruce Mason.
In an informal press conference after the company's annual shareholders meting last week, Mason said TN is pursuing acquisitions to buttress its Foote, Cone & Belding and Bozell Worldwide agency brands as well as seeking "big global acquisitions." Asked if Bates Worldwide, in which he has previously expressed interest, is the subject of the "preliminary conversations" that TN is engaged in, Mason called it "a good possibility."
"Everyone is talking to everyone" about agency consolidations, driven in part by the "frenzy building in the financial services and automotive" and other businesses, he said.
However, Michael Bungey, Bates' worldwide chief executive, said, "I have met Bruce Mason just once, and that was on a plane trip to Chicago when he introduced himself to me very briefly." As for merger discussions with anyone else, Bungey said, "We are not for sale. We are an independent agency. There has been no change in that strategy."
Bates is part of the publicly traded Cordiant Communications Group.
Mason said TN remains interested in a possible initial public stock offering for its TN Technologies digital marketing unit, into which Bozell's Poppe Tyson shop is being folded. However, that interest has so far been stymied by securities regulations prohibiting an IPO on the heels of the pooling of interests involved in the BJK&E acquisition. Those restrictions could expire next year, after which TN would explore spinning off the unit, which Mason said analysts have valued at $4-7 a share for TN shareholders.
The agency's plan to consolidate FCB and Bozell operations where feasible extends to its promotions agencies, Mason said. TN's Market Growth Resources shop in Wilton, Conn., and Minneapolis-based McCracken Brooks, which Bozell owned, will become "more or less one operation. They may retain their separate names with shared back-shop operations," he said.
Mason's contract as chief executive officer expires in February 1999, and he turns 60 next year. Whether he will step down then will be determined "by me and the board of directors," he said. "It's undecided what will happen then." - with Hank Kim