Bollore Eyes Harris Interactive

NEW YORK Vincent Bollore, chairman of Havas and the largest single shareholder in competing agency holding company Aegis Group, is mulling a possible bid for Rochester, N.Y.-based market research firm Harris Interactive, according to government filings.

Bollore has already held preliminary talks with Harris executives or representatives about a possible bid, per reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The French financier has been quietly buying up shares of the research firm for about a year and currently has more than 6.6 million shares, or a 12.4 percent stake in the firm, according to the filings.

Bollore and executives at Harris could not immediately be reached for comment.

A possible deal is significant in light of past talks that Bollore has conducted with WPP Group and other financiers about acquiring Aegis and dividing its assets. In such a scenario, WPP would absorb Aegis’ Synovate research unit, while Bollore would take control of media network Carat and other Aegis holdings. If such a deal took place, an acquisition of Harris by Bollore would fill the void should WPP pick up Synovate.

In a related development, Bollore two weeks ago renewed his attempt to gain representation on Aegis’ board with a proposal to elect two of his associates at the firm’s annual shareholder meeting in May. This marks the fifth time in recent years that Bollore has proposed the election of those board members. (Aegis said this week that shareholders should once again vote down the proposal based on the potential conflict presented by Bollore’s position and investment in Havas.)

In SEC papers filed in February, Bollore stated that he has “decided to evaluate and explore any and all options available” with respect to his Harris Interactive investment, including “possible strategic transactions involving the issuer [Harris Interactive] and third parties.” The filing also said Bollore and his team “have recently engaged in and wish to engage in further discussion with [Harris Interactive’s] management. . .and have requested access to confidential information regarding the issuer and its business.”

The company is well known to consumers for its Harris Poll, which began in 1963 and measure public opinions, trends and behaviors on various of subjects including politics, the economy, healhcare and lifestyles.

The firm also conducts research, sales and marketing evaluations, concept testing and branding assessments for dozens of clients in various fields.

In fiscal 2007, Harris reported $211 million in revenue. It has 1,300 full-time employees.

There has been speculation that Bollore is preparing to make a takeover bid for Aegis. Under British law, if his stake in the company reaches 30 percent, he would be required to make an offer. His stake has hovered in the 29-plus percent range for more than a year.

Last month, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, in an interview with a European news service, predicted Bollore would soon make a run at Aegis.

Havas CEO Fernando Rodes Vila also weighed in last month in an interview with the Times Online in which he said he “knows for certain” that Havas and Aegis would “create value if they were put together.”

As for Bollore, Rodes Vila said, “Aegis will one day or another be sold and, knowing Vincent Bollore as I do, he’s the kind of person who will never quit.”