FINANCIAL HURDLES WOULD HAMPER DEBT-RIDDEN GIANTS

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Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chief Executive Charlie Scott, aggressively seeking to bolster the network, is orchestrating agency consolidations while pondering a possible deal with France's cash-strapped BDDP Group.

As Saatchi-owned Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide moved last week to absorb McCaffrey & McCall, a New York-based agency with about $100 million in billings, rumors were rampant that Mr. Scott was contemplating an equity position in BDDP.

Discussions between Saatchi's London-based chief and BDDP brass are said to have been initiated last fall with Mr. Scott expressing interest in an association. The French group is said to be aggressively seeking ways to repay debt, estimated at about $135 million, taken on in better financial days to build its network.

Some industry executives said the "financial engineering" necessary for such a deal makes it unlikely.

"Saatchi needs more debt like they need a hole in the head," said a U.K. analyst. "The banks wouldn't lend them the money anyway."

A Saatchi spokesman refused to comment but stressed Mr. Scott is "very anti-acquisition and -merger unless there is an extremely good case for it.'

"Charlie ...has met at various times with people from BDDP," the spokesman said. "We never disclose what we discuss with all these people."

BDDP, with about $875.6 million in billings in 1992, has eight offices in Europe and the Middle East, and also owns a majority stake in Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York.

Separately, Mr. Scott last week oversaw two deals that helped him consolidate Saatchi operations.

For the holding company, taking over McCaffrey was the equivalent of calling a loan. Agency insiders said McCaffrey, which orchestrated a 1991 buyback from Saatchi, still owed the holding company giant $15 million. No money was exchanged in the agency fusion that resulted in the closing of McCaffrey's New York office.

"We rammed into a very difficult time in the economy," said Michael Robertson, 45, former chairman-ceo and chief creative officer of McCaffrey and now a creative director at Backer. "It was difficult to get on track."

McCaffrey's 45-person New York office is being folded into Backer headquarters; the Indianapolis office remains open and keeps its name. That office and McCaffrey & McCall Direct Marketing will be overseen by Robert Henry, formerly the agency's chief operating officer and now exec VP of McCaffrey & McCall Operations at Backer.

Also last week, Mr. Scott sold Hall Harrison Cowley Group, a small U.K. regional advertising and public relations network, back to its management for $2.1 million in cash and shares.

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