Hill, Holliday Talks of Buying Shop to Add to Verizon Business

ATLANTA On-again, off-again merger talks between independent shop Erwin-Penland and Interpublic Group’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos are back on, sources said.

The agencies are believed to have held talks as recently as two weeks ago. Erwin declined to say how far along discussions have gone.

Hill, Holliday declined comment.

Both shops handle considerable portions of regional Verizon Wireless accounts. E-P, in Greenville, S.C. has accumulated about$40 million in business from the Bedminster, N.J. client. The shop handles the $17 million Southern retail account and the $25 million Southeast share.

Hill, Holliday handles the $60-80 million mid-Atlantic and Northeast markets.

E-P president Joe Erwin said “We’re in the southeast and fast growing,” he said. “We haven’t been actively seeking a merger or have put ourselves up for sale, but our success has prompted some phone calls.”

Sources said executives from Hill Holliday approached Erwin last summer but that talks became untenable when Rich Levy, group CD at IPG sibling Bozell, was fired after he suggested to Verizon Wireless that Bozell’s piece of the account be shifted to IPG sibling Hill, Holliday, where he was apparently negotiating for a job.

Erwin said he had talked to executives at Bozell, but would not say if a sale was imminent.

“If there’s the right kind of opportunity that we can determine is in the best interests of our clients and our employees, then we’ll think about it,” said Erwin, who said he had told his staff about the Hill, Holliday overtures. “We’ve never let the word out that we’re looking to be sold and we’re not doing that now. But if you want to buy me and you have enough money, give me a call. I have a responsibility to listen to thoughtful inquiries.