Agency watchers see a shifting agency mix

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Interpublic group of cos.' post-merger menu of agencies won't be revealed until the True North Communications acquisition closes in late June. But that's not stopping industry insiders from speculating which agencies will emerge as signature dishes, and which will become mere ingredients that dissolve in the mix.

This is Interpublic Chairman-CEO John J. Dooner's party, but the merger transition is being coordinated by David Bell, True North chairman-CEO, along with Bruce Nelson, Interpublic exec VP-chief marketing officer; Barry Linsky, Interpublic exec VP-planning and business development; and Kevin Smith, True North exec VP-chief financial officer. Interpublic Exec VP-Chief Financial Officer Sean Orr is playing a supporting role in the transition.

All team members either declined to comment on the transition or did not return phone calls.

Interpublic has said True North's FCB Worldwide will be its third global agency network, joining McCann-Erickson World- Group and Lowe Group.

Some observers predict a fourth global network will emerge: DraftWorldwide, Interpublic's direct and promotional marketing shop, could absorb some smaller, traditional agencies. It's also possible Draft could keep its structure but be aligned with another Interpublic entity. Chairman-CEO Howard Draft declined to comment.

The consolidation of some midsize agencies is widely anticipated. Possible couplings include Interpublic's Deutsch with True North's Bozell Group, Interpublic shops Martin Agency and Suissa Miller, or Interpublic's Gotham with True North siblings Bozell and Temerlin McClain. Temerlin also could join McCann's network and combine some Texas McCann operations under the Temerlin name. A spokeswoman for Temerlin said it was "premature to discuss any scenarios." In addition, True North's TN Media could be folded into Interpublic's Initiative Media arm, while True North public relations unit BSMG Worldwide could join Interpublic's Weber Shandwick Worldwide, observers speculate.

Consolidation can leave a bad aftertaste, as Interpublic learned after merging Ammirati Puris Lintas with Lowe & Partners/SMS to form Lowe Lintas & Partners in 1999. Some foresee a de-merger to reinstate Lintas as a package-goods specialist. The separation would leave Lowe as a "creative" agency that could form an alliance with Deutsch. A Lowe spokesman declined to comment.

Others, however, see Deutsch becoming its own network, aligning with FCB or taking over some FCB offices.

Chairman Donny Deutsch was traveling May 11 and not available for comment at deadline. An FCB spokesman said: "I can't speculate on that [FCB/Deutsch alignment]. The [True North] deal hasn't closed."

Internationally, True North holds a 35% stake in Hamburg, Germany-based Springer & Jacoby, which brings a DaimlerChrysler agency into General Motors Corp.-heavy Interpublic. True North has the right to purchase the entire agency in 2003.

"We have a very good relationship with True North, which helps us with our international expansion," said Michael Trautmann, the member of the Springer board responsible for international clients. "But if this should become impossible because of conflicts, we would leave."

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Dagmar Mussey, Cara Beardi and Kate MacArthur.

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