Havas Makes $75M Acquisition in Its Biggest Deal for 15 Years

Purchase of Digital Agency FullSix Brings Sorrell Adversary Into Havas

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Marco Tinelli and Yannick Bolloré
Marco Tinelli and Yannick Bolloré
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Havas is making its biggest acquisition in fifteen years with the purchase of digital communications group FullSix, for around $75 million.

The Paris-based digital business has a global staff of nearly 700, with offices in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S., and a client list that includes L'Oreal, Vodafone, Bayer, Renault and LVMH.

The deal is expected to be completed next month. The exact terms are not being disclosed, but FullSix claimed revenues of $67 million last year, and an executive close to the deal said that Havas will likely pay 1.1 or 1.2 times this figure.(Unlike the other major ad holding companies, Havas rarely makes big acquisitions, and FullSix is a small one compared to the deals its bigger rivals make).

In acquiring FullSix, Havas CEO Yannick Bolloré is bringing on board an old adversary of WPP CEO Martin Sorrell: FullSix founder and group president Marco Tinelli.

In 2007, Mr. Sorrell sued Mr. Tinelli and his colleague Marco Benatti for libel, accusing them of waging an internet hate campaign against him. This included disparaging Mr. Sorrell and a female WPP exec while circulating a "vicious" email image of the two of them. The case ended when Mr. Sorrell accepted a $180,000 settlement, without admission of liability, from Mr. Tinelli and Mr. Benatti.

Mr. Bolloré said that FullSix will be maintained as a separate brand, particularly as it is very well known in France and Iberia. "This is not a takeover, it's a wedding," Mr. Bolloré added, "We had a four hour meeting this morning and the chemistry is very dynamic and positive."

Havas' last two much bigger acquisitions were both done at the turn of the century: first Spanish media agency MPG, now part of Havas Media, and then direct marketing company Snyder Communications for $2.1 billion in 2000. Mr. Bolloré described the Snyder deal as a "disaster." He said, "That acquisition was not properly integrated, which is why I will personally take care of the integration of FullSix,"

Asked whether the FullSix acquisition was the start of a more aggressive phase in Havas' strategy, Mr. Bollore replied, "We need to be very opportunistic. It's possible -- if we find things in the data space -- but the idea is not go get big – it's about fitness, not fatness."

Mr. Tinelli said in a statement, "Havas is a dynamic, entrepreneurial group that will bring us the clout, the network and the talents we need to develop even faster. FullSix will add to and develop the Havas Group's digital and data scope and expertise. We are very close in terms of culture, our knowhow is largely complementary and our ambitions are the same."