IPG Mulls Ties That Could Bind

NEW YORK–In a continuing effort to create synergies and cut overhead, The Interpublic Group of Cos. is mulling several options to combine or repackage its above- and below-the-line units, sources said.

One scenario that has been discussed involves Initiative Media, direct shop Draft, public relations agency Golin/Harris International and Lowe Lintas & Partners, according to sources. The goal: Create a communications group and align it with Lowe Lintas, sources said.

While acknowledging the logic of such a move, Interpublic CEO John Dooner said “there’s no intention now” to forge ties between those units. He did say, however, that IPG encourages its agencies to collaborate whenever possible.

Other speculation revolves around IPG’s Gotham and two shops IPG is acquiring as part of its pending purchase of True North Communications: Avrett Free Ginsberg and Bozell, said sources. The notion is to merge Gotham with AFG or perhaps combine all three.

Furthermore, sources indicated that The Martin Agency is likely to be expanded via a merger or an acquisition.

Talk of combining resources predates IPG’s deal to buy TN. Indeed, there’s a precedent for it beyond Mullen-LHC. Last year, IPG also merged Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston with San Francisco’s Goldberg Moser O’Neill to create GMO\Hill, Holliday [Adweek, April 24, 2000].

The TN deal, however, has heightened speculation about what IPG will do with its new assets. As one source put it, “It’s a very logical thing to speculate as to how to [best] shore up those enterprises.”

The idea of a communications group tied to Lowe Lintas has been discussed since last year, said sources. Some said it’s still on the table; others said it’s dead. Regardless, it fits with IPG’s stated strategy of integrated collaboration.

As for a possible merger involving Gotham, AFG and/or Bozell, Dooner dismissed such talk as “extremely premature.” He added: “The strategic idea of doing such things is proper. What things to do is another thing.”

The shops, for their part, had little to say. “If it is true, no one has mentioned a word of it to me,” said Gotham CEO Stone Roberts, adding, “At the moment, I can’t see any reason why this is appropriate.” AFG chairman Frank Ginsberg said only, “It’s all speculation,” while a Bozell representative declined to comment.

–with Scott Bryan and Trevor Jensen