Different Week, Same Old IPG

Last week was another clunker for Interpublic Group, with McCann-Erickson losing creative on Coke Classic to WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. And this week will be just as challenging.

Today is the deadline for IPG to renegotiate its bank loans. And later this week, the company expects to strike a deal to sell its NFO WorldGroup research arm.

IPG was initially optimistic that it would meet the renegotiation deadline, since the banks are in the loop on the NFO sale talks. Insiders were told that nearly all the financing had been secured. But by the end of the week, worries resurfaced about whether the deadline could be met. If IPG needs another extension, that option remains open, an analyst said.

The suitors for NFO include United Business Media; Taylor Nelson Sofres; Aegis; Ipsos, a French research company; and at least one other, which could be VNU, (Adweek’s parent), sources said. WPP has dropped out; its bid, thought to have been $350-400 million, was among the lowest, with UBM reported to be the highest at about $500-575 million. In either case, IPG will not get the $600-plus million it paid for NFO in 2000. The potential bidders were unavailable or declined comment.

With the SEC probing it, IPG is increasingly tight-lipped about its plans. But staffers have been getting memos from CEO John Dooner, who let slip the toll taken by a second year of misfortune. “A frustration that we at Interpublic felt during the turbulent months at the end of 2002,” he wrote on Jan. 28, “was the degree to which our focus was diverted away from our real business.”

As for IPG’s search for a COO, the company was thought to be close to a hire several weeks ago, but that person, said to have CFO credentials, backed out. —with Noreen O’Leary and Kathleen Sampey