Weber Eyes London PR Giant

Negotiations are under way between Weber Public Relations Worldwide and Shandwick International and could result in an acquisition by early summer, sources said.
A buyout of London-based Shandwick, which owns Golin/Harris Communications in Chicago, by Weber would rocket the Cambridge, Mass.-based agency to a dominant position in the public relations industry. It would also help fulfill founder Larry Weber’s ambition to lead the world’s biggest public relations organization and diversify his agency’s predominantly technology-oriented client base.
The new entity would employ more than 2,200 staffers and have combined net fees of nearly $266 million. It would be rivaled in size only by New York’s Burson-Marsteller, owned by Young & Rubicam. Burson, the world’s largest public relations shop, claimed net fees of $264 million in 1997, per O’Dwyer’s Directory of Public Relations.
It is likely that Shandwick and Golin/Harris would retain their individual identities and report to Weber, which in turn reports to Interpublic Group Cos. through McCann-Erickson WorldGroup. Shandwick last year derived about 80 percent of its $158 million in net fees from consumer accounts such as Kodak, Monsanto and MasterCard, said a source. (Weber has around $61 million in net fees; Golin/Harris has $47 million, per O’Dwyer’s.)
Weber, which has bought a series of smaller shops since it was acquired by McCann a year ago, is most likely negotiating with IPG stock alone, according to sources.
True North Communications in Chicago holds a minority stake in Shandwick and at one time was considered a likely suitor for an outright acquisition. TN executives declined comment, but sources said the agency is not pursuing an ownership role.
Weber declined comment. IPG head Phil Geier could not be reached at press time, nor could Shandwick founder Lord Chadlington.
–with Scott Hume and Aaron Barr