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The bidding war for Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt took a dramatic turn Friday, with BJK&E rejecting an offer from Omnicom Group-in part for its "financial inadequacy."

At the same time, BJK&E insiders indicated talks with the remaining bidder, True North Communications, were cooling off-a stance that could be a negotiating ploy since True North insiders remain eager to consummate a deal.


In a statement issued May 30, Leo-Arthur Kelmenson, chairman of BJK&E, said, "The decision . . . to reject Omnicom's expression of interest is based upon the proposal's financial inadequacy as well as operational considerations.

"The board's decision was made after consultation with BJK&E's financial adviser, Merrill Lynch & Co., and is understood by Omnicom and BJK&E's mutual client, Chrysler Corp."


Omnicom President-CEO John Wren said he was "disappointed" but declined further comment, including on whether Omnicom will make another offer for BJK&E.

BJK&E's frostiness toward Omnicom turned downright arctic following meetings last week between the chief financial officers for each holding company-Omnicom's Fred Meyer and BJK&E's Val Zammit. Neither Mr. Wren nor BJK&E President-CEO Charles Peebler attended the meeting.

Among the sticking points: Omnicom is said to have refused to pay a premium price of more than $400 million for BJK&E; had planned to carve up the holdings; and had not intended to create a top management role for Mr. Peebler. Omnicom's offer was said to be for less than $300 million.

If Omnicom had prevailed, BJK&E interactive unit Poppe Tyson was expected to function as a stand-alone unit, while BJK&E Media might have gone under Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide.

While it has been courting BJK&E, True North is itself being eyed by others as an acquisition target. Interpublic Group of Cos. and WPP Group are said to be interested in True North.

An executive close to Interpublic said the holding company is not interested as long as Publicis retains a stake in True North.

WPP Group also has an eye on Bates Worldwide and is said to be interested in Young & Rubicam. WPP has made several calls to Y&R investment partner Hellman & Friedman, which so far has not returned the calls, according to one agency executive.

One major sticking point in the True North/BJK&E talks has been the refusal of Bozell client Chrysler Corp. to bless a deal because of Foote, Cone & Belding's Mazda Motor of America account. FCB is a unit of True North.

It was rumored last week that True North, in its quest to complete a deal, had asked an influential board member to make a plea to Chrysler on its behalf.


Though Chrysler already has publicly acknowledged it would have preferred a deal with Omnicom, VP-Communications Bud Liebler last week said, "We don't tell our agencies how to do their business. We're absolutely a big client and we have a voice, but we're not putting pressure on Bozell."

Countered an executive close to the car marketer, "Chrysler has to give the blessing on any deal."

Contributing: Jean Halliday, Mercedes M. Cardona

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