AEGIS SUITORS GIVEN DEADLINE

Offers Must Be on Table by Nov. 25

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The clock is officially ticking on Aegis’ fate: By the end of November it will become clear whether the London-based media company is to remain independent or formally enter into negotations with its suitors.

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The Takeover Panel, a U.K. regulatory body that monitors takeover activity, today said WPP Group and its potential private equity partner, San Francisco-based Hellman & Friedman, have until noon on Nov. 25 to decide whether to make an offer for Aegis Group.

Quick decision
Aegis, which has been the subject of takeover interest since late September, requested that the regulatory group take action so that its fate can be decided reasonably quickly. The panel met with representatives of each company -- Aegis, WPP and Hellman & Friedman -- in recent days before determining the Nov. 25 date.

Hellman & Friedman and WPP, parent of agency networks including JWT and Young & Rubicam, approached Aegis in early October about buying Aegis, parent of media buying and planning unit Carat and research unit Synovate. Another agency holding company, Publicis Groupe, expressed interest in making a possible bid in late September, but in earlier this month decided not to move forward with it.

While WPP and Hellman strategize their next move, French investor Vincent Bollore, who is also chairman of French holding company Havas, continues his shopping spree, snapping up shares of Aegis. This morning he announced his stake in Aegis has increased to 20.8%. He began the week with 20.22%. As Aegis’ single-largest shareholder, Mr. Bollore can convene special shareholder meetings and call for votes on particular matters. Once his stake reaches 25%, he’ll gain additional rights. At 30%, under U.K. law, he must make an offer for the whole company.

Joint venture
Knowledgeable executives said Mr. Bollore is interested in keeping Aegis independent and in forging a joint venture or partnership between Havas and Aegis that will help Havas’ media-buying entity, MPG.

Until now, suitors have largely kept their true intentions veiled. But with a deadline now set, the various players will have to be more open. Publicis, in its withdrawal several weeks ago, left itself the option of re-entering the fray. It included in its withdrawal several caveats under which it said it might re-consider and make an offer. Those caveats are: If a third party, other than WPP and Hellmann expresses interest, or if Aegis’ board requests an offer from Publicis.

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