McKinney Buys Back Independence From Havas

CEO Hopes Being Outside Holding-Company Confines Will Re-energize Shop

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- McKinney, the Durham, N.C.-based creative agency, is set to become an independent again, following a deal struck by agency management to re-acquire 100% interest from Havas, its French parent.
Brad Brinegar
Brad Brinegar

"This has been a very long-term interest of mine and our team here," said Brad W. Brinegar, McKinney's chairman-CEO, who joined the company in 2002. He said he and his team began serious discussions about a buyback with Havas earlier this year.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The shop -- which counts among its clients Travelocity and Virgin Atlantic Airways and was previously known as McKinney & Silver -- was founded nearly 40 years ago in Raleigh, N.C., by Charles "Chick" McKinney, who passed away last September. It was purchased by Havas in spring 2001 from web consultancy MarchFirst for an estimated $30 million to $35 million.

'A wonderful relationship'
"We had a wonderful relationship with Havas -- great autonomy -- but we'd still like to keep the value we create here in the company," said Mr. Brinegar, who hopes a move outside the confines of a marketing-services conglomerate will give McKinney a competitive edge, given the changing nature of client-agency relationships. As an example, he cited Procter & Gamble, which he said "has hired [independents] Mother and Wieden & Kennedy, going outside of a holding-company relationship."

In a statement, Havas CEO Fernando Rodes Vila called the sale of McKinney, which is estimated to have raked in nearly $24 million in revenue last year, "beneficial for both parties," as it will permit the holding company to focus on its core global brands, Euro RSCG, Havas Media and Arnold.

"McKinney is a great company, but it's not a core business for us, because they are not in our [global] network; they are an independent agency," Herve Philippe, Havas' chief financial officer, told Ad Age.

Havas' next move
Mr. Philippe declined to discuss the terms of the deal, but said it will allow Havas to make more-targeted acquisitions that have "synergy" with the global network, citing the group's January acquisition of independent London media agency BLM as an example.

Once a strong regional force with good digital chops, McKinney has in recent years lost some of its momentum due to the loss of several high-profile accounts, such as Audi of America, which left in 2006 after 13 years. The agency has shown some signs of a rebound though, picking up accounts such as Coldwell Banker and Virgin Mobile in 2007 and, most recently, according to industry executives, Gold's Gym's marketing account after a review.