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Publicis' Levy Won't Consider Grey Bid

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NEW YORK Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Maurice Levy told France's Le Figaro today that he is not bidding to buy Grey Global Group.

In an interview that the company excerpted and sent in both French and English as an internal memo to employees, Levy was quoted as saying that "since the acquisition of Bcom3, our interest in Grey is less acute. An acquisition such as this cannot be made simply to earn a better position in the worldwide ranking of global communication groups."

Publicis and Grey have global client Procter & Gamble in common (indeed, P&G is Grey's largest client, comprising nearly 11 percent of the company's revenue), spurring speculation that Publicis would be the most likely suitor to acquire the company. Grey has not commented on reports late last month that it has retained Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to examine strategic opportunities, including a possible sale of the company.

Sources said that WPP Group is interested in buying Grey, although one of its largest global clients, Unilever, is a direct conflict with P&G. WPP Group has declined to comment on its interest or lack thereof in Grey. Still, others wouldn't rule out Omnicom Group as a possible acquirer of Grey, citing that holding company's long interest in getting on the P&G roster. Omnicom executives could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the Le Figaro interview, Levy praised Grey Global Group's Ed Meyer, who has been at the helm since 1970 as chairman, president and CEO, first of the worldwide agency, Grey Worldwide and its 12 sister operating companies, and then in those same roles at the holding company, which was formed in 2000.

"During many years, I wanted to bring Grey and Publicis closer together," Levy said. "Everything pushed me towards that end: its international network, its client portfolio, its approach to integrated communication, which is not very far from our holistic concept, and its size, which is relatively modest." He added, however, that the advantages to his company and its clients in acquiring Grey right now "are thin."

"All this leads me to believe that it is not necessarily in the best interest of Publicis Groupe to make a possible offer for the whole of Grey Group," Levy said.

A Grey representative would not comment on the Le Figaro article, but said in a statement, "Mr. Meyer has no plans to retire. In fact, he's amended his recent line to the staff from his intention to retire five years after he dies to 'He will retire three years after he dies.'"

Some estimated Grey's sale price at just over $1 billion or close to $1,000 per share.