The acquisition is part of Tempus' goal to be one of the world's top six media buying networks by 2001.
Already Europe's second-largest independent media communications group, the holding company for CIA Medianetwork is expected to pay $14.7 million over three years for VSM, a medium-size shop with billings of $220 million.
Its clients include Guinness, Volvo, Barnes & Noble and J.P. Morgan Co.
Also last week, the group announced the purchase of Paris-based media independent Le Lab SA, to be renamed CIA Medianetwork Le Lab.
The U.S. agency will be renamed CIA VSM Media and will form the first building block of CIA Medianetwork North America, said Chris Ingram, Tempus Group chairman.
Twenty-two years ago, Mr. Ingram was the founder of the original Chris Ingram Associates agency, which has spawned a network of 36 offices in 23 countries spanning Europe, Asia and now the U.S.
In the first half of 1998, Tempus reported revenue of $988 million, 34% higher than in the same period in 1997, and an increase of 83% in profits before taxes of $10.6 million.
Mr. Ingram said the company plans to build a network of four or five regional offices in the U.S. over the next two years.
He said they will combine services that clients can't buy currently from just one source, such as media research, strategic planning and new-media skills.
"The skills are there [in the U.S.], but they're not integrated; they're in separate boxes," he said. "We think it's more effective and more user-friendly if they can be housed together."
DEVELOPING IN THE U.S.
CIA's U.S. network could develop via acquisitions or organically, he said. Some existing VSM clients have been pushing for a presence in other areas of the country.
"Now we'll be able to put those resources in," Mr. Ingram said.
He confirmed that a U.S. link with True North Communications is still under consideration and added that the potential for a global alliance with any partner was not "in any way diminished by" the VSM acquisition.
He denied talks were under way for such an alliance with WPP Group, which recently raised its ownership stake in Tempus to 14.7%.
Any bid for Tempus "would have to be considered," he said, although stressing the group is "incredibly independent-minded -- and we're having a ball."
STRATEGIC PLANNING SKILLS
CIA's pitch to U.S. clients will be based on its strategic planning skills, international media-management expertise and coordinated international service. For CIA, which already handles multinationals such as Nike, DHL and Calvin Klein, the U.S. offers the world's highest number of global clients.
The acquisition also will give CIA access to areas of expertise particular to the U.S., such as infomercials, direct marketing and syndicated programming, said Mr. Ingram.
Beginning in October, Mr. Ingram will spend six months based in the U.S.