Berlin on Verge of Inking Deal

NEW YORK — WPP Group is in the final stages of acquisition talks with Berlin Cameron & Partners. The deal would make the agency the creative centerpiece of WPP’s fledgling fourth network, Red Cell, with agency founder Andy Berlin becoming the network’s top executive, sources said.

Berlin, 51, acknowledged that he is in serious talks with suitors, but declined to discuss specifics. Interpublic Group’s John Dooner has also been circling the shop.

“We have been in very flattering discussions from a strategic and financial standpoint, but we have not sold the agency,” said Berlin. “I think something will happen soon.”

“Everyone who’s talked to us has talked to us about giving us international resources — something we need and something our clients are interested in.”

Sources said Berlin is leaning toward inking a deal with WPP since that arrangement calls for his agency to become the “hub” of a separate network. One drawback of the WPP deal, which could work in IPG’s favor, is that Berlin Cameron would have to relinquish its General Motors client.

The agency works for the car maker’s GMC division, which would be a conflict with the Ford business at WPP. In fact, sources said Berlin turned down an invitation to pitch Saturn’s Ion account to avoid creating another conflict should he accept the offer from WPP.

One attraction for WPP could be Berlin Cameron’s Coca-Cola accounts. WPP joined the client’s roster this fall and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell is eager to solidify that relationship with more business, sources said.

Launched in January, London-based Red Cell is a consortium of small, creative agencies, such as Cole & Weber in the U.S. and Batey Advertising in Singapore. Last month, Red Cell CEO Luca Lindner left to join D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.

Formed in 1993 as Berlin Wright Cameron, the agency claims billings of about $220 million. Its clients include Reebok, Ralston Purina, and the NBA. This will be the second time Berlin has sold an agency. He was a founding partner at Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein when Omnicom acquired the shop in 1992.