AEGIS TO OPEN BOOKS FOR PROSPECTIVE BUYERS

Meanwhile Vincent Bollore Ups Stake to 14.7%

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Aegis Group’s London-based investment bankers Greenhill & Co. later this week will open a “data room” that puts the media company's financial books up for inspection by prospective buyers.
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Among those poised to pore over the data are Publicis Groupe, owner of media-buying networks as Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia, and WPP Group, which has teamed with San Francisco private equity firm Hellman & Friedman. Neither advertising company yet made a formal offer, but interest around Aegis shows no sign of letting up as the company’s 11-member board heads to Chicago for a regularly scheduled board meeting Oct. 13.

Vincent Bollore
In the interim, Vincent Bollore, the French corporate raider and chairman of Havas, which is the parent of media buying-and-planning group MPG, continues to buy shares of Aegis: This week he added 7.4 million shares, bringing his total holding to 14.7%. The stake provides Mr. Bollore with stature enough to command the attention of Aegis management but not enough to require an offer. In the U.K., shareholders who own 30% of a company must make a purchase offer.

Havas' management has long said it needs to strengthen MPG, which has pockets of strength in Spain and Western Europe, but is weaker than its rivals in Asia and the U.S. Maintaining an ability to keep up a dialogue with Aegis' management as a possible sales talks swirl is certainly important to Mr. Bollore, observers said.

“Vincent Bollore has maneuvered himself into a similar position as [WPP Chief Executive] Martin Sorrell did when he was initially buying Tempus,” said Chris Ingram, CEO of marketing communications firm Ingram and former CEO of media-buying agency Tempus, which he sold to WPP. “That is, he has the choice of making a bid or selling his stake in a nice profit.”

Publicis' offering
Publicis, according to published reports, initially indicated it would be willing to offer $2.44 per share for Aegis. A Publicis spokesman declined to comment on the matter. But reports out of London yesterday indicate analysts expect Aegis’ 2006 pre-tax profits to be around $218 million, up from the $204 million expected previously, as a result of various acquisitions completed in recent months. That leads many to believe Aegis’ directors will expect a higher offer. In a statement issued Oct. 11, Aegis confirmed that acquisitions will contribute to its full-year 2006 performance, but declined to comment on how much.

In addition to media buying-and-planning unit Carat, Aegis’ holdings include media-buying unit Vizeum, digital marketing unit Isobar and outdoor media specialist Posterscope. For Publicis, an Aegis acquisition would make its media-buying entities the world’s leader in terms of billings, a position it held until WPP’s purchase in March of Grey Global Group.

Sorrell's interest in Synovate
WPP's Mr. Sorrell has in recent months expressed interest in Synovate, Aegis’ research unit. By partnering with Hellman & Friedman, which has in the past invested in agency network Young & Rubicam and more recently Digitas, WPP could conceivably get its bit while leaving the rest with Hellman & Friedman, which could either hold the publicly traded company or sell it off.

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