KSL Seeks Freedom From New Parent IPG

NEW YORK — KSL Media is in final negotiations to buy itself back from parent Interpublic Group of Cos.

“KSL was built to be entrepreneurial and nimble, and it’s difficult to behave that way if you have to follow the dictates of the stock market above and beyond all else,” said president Kal Liebowitz. “Clients’ spending is down, and they want an agency that has maximizing their money as a top priority, not one that’s going to force them to spend so that the agency’s balance sheet looks better versus another corporation.”

He said he hopes to finalize the deal next week.

Should the former True North shop gain its independence, it will be reborn at a fraction of its current size — without several key executives — in the most unforgiving environment in at least a decade.

KSL would have been dissolved into IPG’s Initiative Media had the former remained within the IPG fold, according to sources. Liebowitz has been negotiating with Jim Bell, president and COO of IM121, an Initiative unit. Neither Bell nor Initiative CEO Lou Schultz was available for comment.

IPG inherited the shop when it acquired TN, which bought KSL in 1999 and allowed it to operate autonomously within the network. But KSL, which claimed billings of nearly $600 million at its peak, has seen them plummet in the past 18 months to less than $200 million, sources said. Major client losses in 2001 included the $100 million Revlon business and, last week, the $25 million 21st Century Insurance Group account, which moved to Initiative?s direct response unit.

KSL has been hit hard by layoffs and defections the past few months. Jamie Korsen, KSL New York president, left earlier this year. Leslie Poliak, evp/co-managing director in Los Angeles, resigned this summer.

Last week, KSL Los Angeles svp/managing director Cindy Borges departed for Carat’s Southern California office to run the Ditech business there. Dozens of staffers have been let go since the end of 2000, most of them in the New York headquarters.