AMMIRATI DEAL PUTS BURGERS ON HOT SPOT

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Interpublic Group of Cos.' merger of Lintas and newly acquired Ammirati & Puris is turning into a Whopper of a problem for McDonald's.

Burger King Corp., with its $160 million in billings, is a major client of what was Ammirati. Previously, McDonald's Corp. was the only fast-food business in the Interpublic fold.

Before the formation of Ammirati & Puris/Lintas was announced last week, Interpublic hoped to ease those tensions by switching the reporting status of Fahlgren, a McDonald's co-op agency based in Parkersburg, W.Va., from Lintas directly to the parent. That change had to be made in order for Interpublic to strike a deal to acquire Ammirati.

Anxiety, however, has erupted at McCann Universal Group, New York. McDonald's comprises the majority of the McCann-Erickson North America specialty unit's $53 million in billings.

"Clearly, it was anticipated that there would be a problem with McDonald's," said one agency executive, adding that Interpublic may spin the McDonald's business into an autonomous group. "It was a calculated risk."

The merger is also expected to impede a review under way for the creative portion of McDonald's $10 million Hispanic account, which includes finalists del Rivero Messianu Lintas, Coral Gables, Fla., and Vidal Reynardus Moyas, New York, which is part of McCann.

Overall, however, Interpublic hopes the merger will revive Lintas' New York office. Interpublic has paid handsomely-insiders now say as much as $60 million-for that wish.

Ironically, Interpublic rival Omnicom Group benefits from the agency sale.

The Interpublic purchase allows Ammirati to complete its payments to Omnicom, its erstwhile owner. The final payment takes shape as a so-called "embarrassment clause," said to allow Omnicom to profit if Ammirati sold for more than Martin Puris and a group paid to buy it back in 1990. Including the initial buyback price, Omnicom is now believed to have reaped more than $30 million.

"We made a mistake the first time," said Mr. Puris, president-CEO of the merged unit. "We thought we could build internationally with BMP," which Omnicom acquired in 1989 when the holding company purchased Ammirati's then-parent Boase Massimi Pollit, London. At the time of the buyback a year later, Mr. Puris said he would never sell his agency again.

Mr. Puris now is also vice chairman of Lintas Worldwide, reporting to Ken Robbins, chairman-CEO of the worldwide company. Ralph Ammirati is chairman of the merged New York agencies, and Helayne Spivak is chief creative officer. Lintas Executive Creative Director Kevin O'Neill retains his title.

Pat Sloan and Jeanne Whalen contributed to this story.

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