BARTLE BOGLE TURNS TO ASIA AS TALK SWIRLS;HOT LONDON AGENCY SAID TO BE LOOKING FOR PARTNERS IN U.S.

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[London] Always the hot agency property, Bartle Bogle Hegarty is expanding to Asia amid increasing talk that it's in discussions with potential partners elsewhere.

Bartle, however, maintains it's committed to opening its own offices outside the U.K. independently, with the first one set for Singapore or Hong Kong this fall.

"I know there are a lot of rumors about us talking to American agencies, but we're not," said Nigel Bogle, Bartle's joint chief executive. "Our focus has been on creating this opportunity in the Far East and that's where it will stay for a while. The future for BBH is as a standalone brand."

TALKS WITH MIDSIZE SHOPS

A quest for independent international expansion also has led Bartle to talk with midsize U.S. agencies about sharing offices and services. Several years ago, Bartle discussed such cooperative arrangements with Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, Wieden & Kennedy and Ammirati Puris Lintas. It has talked with other New York shops more recently.

The 12-year-old $250 million agency has built such a strong international client list and creative reputation through a single London shop that a move outside the U.K. has been widely expected.

About 50% of Bartle's revenues come from international work for clients including Levi Strauss & Co., Haagen-Dazs, Polaroid Corp. and Club Mediterranee, which many think would seem to mandate additional offices or an international partner.

True North Communications, Omnicom Group, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Young & Rubicam all confirmed they have held informal talks with Bartle about its intentions over the past few years-and would pursue a deal if Bartle showed serious interest or another suitor appeared close to snaring it.

Both True North and Y&R executives deny any recent talks.

`CLOSE TO A DEAL'

One agency holding company executive familiar with Bartle insists the London shop is "close to a deal."

Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney Partnership, London, said Bartle Chairman-Creative Director John Hegarty has casually talked to him about Bartle possibly opening a San Francisco office since Leagas Delaney moved into the Bay Area earlier this year. Bartle hasn't ruled out an office in either San Francisco or New York, according to a spokeswoman.

"The U.S. is harder and more competitive to enter," said Charles Garland, Bartle's group development director. "I'm not saying we're not going to look west, but we have no current plans."

Bartle's Asia office, to open in October, will be run by Simon Sherwood, now the agency's managing director in London. Bartle Deputy Chairman Martin Smith will take over Mr. Sherwood's job.

Contributing: Mark Gleason and Alice Z. Cuneo.

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