After NFO sale: IPG set to realign health, PR shops

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Interpublic Group of Cos. is preparing to break up its Advanced Marketing Services operating group, parceling out the division's units to other operating groups after it sells NFO WorldGroup, a market-research business that is a key component of the services operation.

With the sale of NFO, the remaining businesses of AMS left to be divvied up are New America Strategies Group, ISO Healthcare Group and two public relations firms, Weber Shandwick Worldwide and Golin/Harris International. They will be realigned with Interpublic's remaining four operating groups, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, FCB Group, The Partnership and Interpublic Sports & Entertainment Group, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week.

Some entities within AMS have already been realigned. Jack Morton Worldwide, for instance, now reports to the Sports & Entertainment Group. Another AMS agency, GlobalHue, headed by Don Coleman has held discussions with Interpublic about buying his stake back. Mr. Coleman did not return a call for comment.

umbrella

Interpublic created Advanced Marketing Services in July 2001 as a successor to its Allied Communications Group. In addition to providing an umbrella under which other companies operated, the unit was charged with expanding Interpublic's charter into new marketing intelligence, services and communications areas.

Larry Weber, who sold his public relations company, Weber Group, to Interpublic in 1996 for $15.9 million, is currently chairman-CEO of AMS. An Interpublic spokesman would not comment on Mr. Weber's role or on the content of last week's filing. Mr. Weber was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Given Interpublic's charge under new Chairman-CEO David Bell to focus on core businesses and pare the portfolio, Interpublic's move is not surprising. The shift to disposing assets follows years of dealing, including 31 acquisitions-most notably True North Communications-done under the watch of former Chairman-CEO John J. Dooner Jr. from Jan. 2001 to Sept. 2002. Mr. Dooner last month moved back to McCann-Erickson WorldGroup as chairman-CEO, a post he held for years prior to running Interpublic.

COO search continues

In other Interpublic-related news, the company's search for a chief operating officer, begun last November, continues. One candidate approached by Interpublic is Joseph Ripp, current vice chairman, AOL Time Warner's America Online, according to executives familiar with the situation. Mr. Ripp, who was exec VP-chief financial officer of America Online prior to his current role, and earlier held several financial-management positions within Time Inc., declined to comment.

contributing: jean halliday

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