BOZELL TO ACQUIRE N.Y.'S AVRETT, FREE & GINSBERG

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It took three years of courting, but Bozell Worldwide last week finally announced its engagement to Avrett, Free & Ginsberg.

Bozell will acquire the 140-person New York agency for an undisclosed sum that analysts estimate at $15 million to $20 million.

Avrett, with billings of $370 million, will remain an autonomous operation under its new parent company. Chairman-CEO and Creative Director Frank Ginsberg will keep his current titles after the deal is finalized. (Agency co-founder Jack Avrett died in August 1997.)

Mr. Ginsberg said he finally acceded to Bozell because there's a "synergy between cultures and clients," and because of his own desire for a global presence.

GLOBAL SERVICES ESSENTIAL

"Three years ago, I was naive, thinking that our work was so outstanding that it would all stay there," Mr. Ginsberg said. "But you have to have global services to serve global clients."

In 1995, the agency lost United Distillers' $6 million to $10 million Johnnie Walker Black account to Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. Burnett later executed Avrett's "There's more to explore with Black" campaign globally. That loss hit hard, said Mr. Ginsberg.

The executive added that he was approached by several suitors over the past 36 months.

"We were talking to everybody; everybody is talking to everybody else," he said.

Mr. Ginsberg said his agency had recently won assignments from several clients that operate in markets including Argentina, Brazil, France and Germany. The deal with Bozell gives the agency the instant ability to service those accounts in those markets.

The alliance also gives it access to TN Media, the media buying operations of Bozell parent True North Communications, which opens up additional opportunities.

WAITING FOR THE WORD

Bozell President-CEO David Bell said the Bozell management team has waited patiently for Mr. Ginsberg's blessing. "Timing has everything to do with it-when Frank thought it was the right time rather than when we thought it was right," Mr. Bell said.

Three of Bozell's top executives are close friends of Mr. Ginsberg.

"On a personal front, for us this is less of an acquisition than it is a joining together of friends and services," said Mr. Bell.

"The four of us [Messrs. Bell and Ginsberg, Leo-Arthur Kelmenson and Jay Schulberg] go back a long time," said Mr. Schulberg, Bozell vice chairman-chief creative officer. Mr. Schulberg first met Mr. Ginsberg 10 years ago at the wedding of Mr. Kelmenson, the Bozell chairman.

The day the deal was announced, Oct. 2, Mr. Schulberg's wife spent the day with Mr. Ginsberg and his wife at the Ginsberg home.

There are no client conflicts; though the shops have a shared client. Avrett has the Clairol Professional unit of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., a Bozell client.

Mr. Bell said the purchase of Avrett continues Bozell's strategy of bulking up its national and global capabilities. He said the purchase gives Bozell the ability to "service new clients and service them on a broader basis."

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