CKS Group Is in Talks To Buy Competitor LVL

By Joan Voight

SAN FRANCISCO–The CKS Group is in final negotiations to acquire a Silicon Valley rival, LVL Communications, sources said.

Mark Kvamme, chairman of Cupertino, Calif.-based CKS Group, declined to comment about talks with LVL. ‘We are talking to agencies locally, on the East Coast and internationally in regard to possible acquisitions,’ he said. ‘No announcement is imminent (as a result of) any of those talks.’

CKS, which started as a small high-tech integrated marketing agency in Campbell, Calif., has grown into a national interactive and marketing agency network that is partly owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos. The agency has purchased several ad, marketing and design shops in the U.S. and Europe since going public last year.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., LVL Communications operates LVL Advertising and LVL Interactive. Agency billings are estimated at $80-100 million. Recently it opened an office in Santa Monica, Calif., to draw entertainment industry clients.

LVL officials either declined comment or could not be reached.

Cal Lai, chief executive officer of LVL Communications, and Steve Venuti, president of LVL Interactive, were first approached by CKS last year, sources said. When LVL’s efforts to line up overseas investors failed to materialize this year, negotiations with CKS became more serious, said sources.

Among issues to be decided before a sale is how much autonomy Lai, Venuti and LVL president Ed Dilworth will have within the CKS network, said sources. LVL Interactive has steadily grown in 1996-97, with assignments from Disney, DreamWorks and Bank of America.

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