Looking to Buy? Don't Talk to Chuck

Crispin Exec: Comment That MDC Could Be Sold Was Taken Out of Context

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Is MDC Partners, the parent company of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, on the block?

That's what a quote in an article in the June issue of Fast Company magazine, now being denied by Crispin, suggested. Quoting co-Chairman Chuck Porter, a cover story about the agency said: "'Any analyst would say: a) MDC's stock is in the tank, and they're not performing as well as they should, and b) Crispin has performed really, really well. So there's a disconnect here. You can't deny that.' He pauses. 'If you've got someone who wants to come and buy the whole thing right now, we can talk -- the whole ball of wax, the whole MDC.'"
Crispin has denied a recent Fast Company cover story that implied MDC Partners was for sale.
Crispin has denied a recent Fast Company cover story that implied MDC Partners was for sale.

It's quite a statement, one that can easily be construed as an invitation both to bigger ad-agency groups and to financial players to make a bid on MDC, whose agency brands include Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners and Cliff Freeman & Partners. Crispin, fast-growing and highly profitable with brands that include Burger King and Volkswagen, would be a crown jewel in any ad empire. (It did hit a bump last week, when it split with Nike after just a year of working on its running account.)

After being queried by Ad Age, the agency took the unusual step of criticizing the article publicly. "She took what he said completely out of context," said Katie Kempner, spokeswoman for MDC and Crispin, who was present during staff writer Danielle Sacks' interview with Mr. Porter.

"During that part of the interview," Mr. Porter said, "we were talking about the financial community's view of MDC. ... What we were really talking about was some of the conversations that were happening in some realms of the financial community, and I was relating things that we had heard. I wasn't really talking about what we think. In that sense, it was definitely out of context."

No clarification
He added: "The truth is, I don't even remember saying that," but "what I certainly didn't mean is 'Call me; we can talk.'"

Ms. Kempner said MDC and Crispin won't pursue a clarification or correction in the magazine.

Ms. Sacks did not return a phone call or an e-mail, but Fast Company is standing by the story. Will Bourne, executive editor, responded in an e-mail: "We understand that Chuck Porter, co-chairman of Crispin Porter & Bogusky and chief strategist of MDC Partners, the holding company that owns CP&B, asserts that a quotation attributed to him in our current article on the agency was taken out of context. After reviewing the transcript of conversation, Fast Company believes his words were neither taken out of context nor even ambiguous. We stand by our story."

He added, "After Porter made the remarks about the 'whole ball of wax, the whole MDC,' we immediately asked, 'Have you guys been approached?' He responded, 'Oh yeah, we┬╣ve been approached many, many times. MDC has been approached and we've [CP&B] been approached."
MDC co-Chairman Chuck Porter
MDC co-Chairman Chuck Porter

Research for the article began more than a year ago as an attempt to find holes in the agency's performance, several industry executives said (Fast Company denies this), but it evolved into a largely positive piece pegged to Crispin's recent win of Microsoft's branding assignment. It begins with a quote likening co-Chairman Alex Bogusky to Jesus and wraps up with musing about the shop's potential to become the Steve Jobs of advertising.

Undervalued stock?
But there's still that question of whether MDC is actively exploring a sale or going private. CEO Miles Nadal declined to comment.

"Every company whose stock is underperforming the fundamentals over a longer period of time should probably consider their options," said William Blair analyst Troy Mastin. "How real those options are really vary with capital markets," along with "the willingness of buyers." MDC's stock price has been hovering below $8 and he said, "The stock is substantially undervalued."
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