Havas joins three suitors wooing Snyder

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Paris-based Havas Advertising has emerged as one of four companies believed to have submitted bids to acquire Snyder Communications.

Of the other three, two are said to be traditional agency companies, while one is believed to be a non-traditional suitor, possibly an Internet player with a high-flying stock valuation.

Surprisingly, none of the Big Three agency holding companies-WPP Group, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Omnicom Group-is believed to have made formal bids. That doesn't mean they won't; the companies are said to be poring over Snyder's financial documents and could still make formidable bids.

Snyder executives held due diligence meetings Jan. 21 with some bidders; those meetings are expected to continue this week. Several executives close to the situation said the bids were in the mid-$20-per-share range. But other industry executives dismissed that price-which would value the agency as high as $1.5 billion to $2 billion-as too high.

Snyder's stock closed at $20.50 on Jan. 21, down slightly.

PRICE A STEAL?

"Depending on how you look at it, [$25 a share] is a lot of money or a steal," said one agency executive.

Havas Advertising has been vocal about boosting its U.S. presence, and is believed to be willing to pay a premium for companies it covets. If it acquires Snyder, Havas is likely to combine it with its Campus advertising network rather than make it part of its Euro RSCG Worldwide network.

It's not known who the other traditional agency bidders are, but one executive close to the situation characterized them as "the usual suspects." One of them could be Publicis.

Publicis, also based in Paris, is aggressively seeking to expand its U.S. presence. After the company acquired Chicago promotions shop Frankel earlier this month, Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy said five other U.S. acquisitions are planned for this year.

"It's fair speculation to say that Publicis is evaluating this to the bone," said one executive close to the company.

DECISION IN FEBRUARY

Snyder is expected to narrow the field to two in the next several weeks, with a final decision by the end of February. Snyder executives declined comment.

The bidding process began last December after Snyder said it received an unsolicited offer from an undisclosed agency group. That company is believed to be one of the four still in contention. Snyder then hired Deustche Bank to explore the sale.

As part of the discussions, bidders will meet with Snyder Chief Financial Officer Clay Perfall and top executives from Snyder subsidiaries. Snyder Chairman-CEO Dan Snyder-whose focus on the ad business appeared to drift after his acquisition last year of the NBA's Washington Redskins-may or may not attend the meetings, according to one executive close to the talks.

Boston-based Arnold Communications appears to be the glossiest jewel at Snyder. But industry executives said the company's strong direct marketing operation, Brann Worldwide, is most attractive to bidders such as Havas.

Contributing: Hillary Chura.

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