INTERPUBLIC-AMMIRATI TALKS COLLAPSE

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Quiet acquisition talks between Interpublic Group of Cos. and Ammirati & Puris, New York, have been scuttled at the 11th hour.

A deal has been "hot and heavy on the discussion front" in recent weeks, one source said. Then the holding company giant faxed a letter halting the discussions.

"All discussions are off," Interpublic Chairman-CEO Phil Geier said late last week.

Talks were held earlier this year (AA, Jan. 31) and were rekindled when IBM Corp. dropped Interpublic's Lintas after uniting worldwide business at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide last month. Ammirati handles Compaq Computer Corp.'s U.S. account, and Ammirati President-CEO Martin Puris has talked with Interpublic about Lintas taking over the European portion of that business.

Industry executives say Mr. Geier now is expected to focus on talks with other midsize agencies such as Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif. Observers say Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, with which Interpublic has previously talked, could be another target.

Ammirati's Mr. Puris acknowledged Mr. Geier has approached him on and off for two years but denied any "serious discussions" were held recently. "They have an interest in it, I know," he said. "But I don't want to decide to be international and be sorry later."

Previously, talks centered on an Ammirati acquisition that would allow it to remain a separate unit within Interpublic.

It's unclear whether that might remain an option. Interpublic wrangled for years with WPP Group over terms for an acquisition of WPP-owned Scali, McCabe, Sloves before finally inking an agreement last fall.

Current priority, however, is to negotiate a merger that will fortify Lintas' New York office, where a spate of account losses have cost up to $200 million in billings.

Also at the Interpublic agency, Lintas Americas CEO and Lintas Worldwide President Spencer Plavoukos this week will be named New York CEO, replacing Tony Miller. After a tenure plagued with large account losses, Mr. Miller is returning to MacLaren Lintas, Toronto, as expected. He's likely to reassume the title of CEO.

Mr. Plavoukos' appointment was decided upon at a recent Lintas executive conference. It was also decided to terminate about 20 agency employees as a result of the IBM loss, an estimated $13 million to $15 million worldwide revenue hit.

Gary Levin contributed to this story.

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