Mr. Pittman formed Pilot Group, a private equity firm earlier this year, after being ejected from AOL Time Warner in July 2002. The company was initially formed with the intention of acquiring stakes in media companies. However, the Federal Communications Commission has been forced to backtrack on plans to further loosen restrictions on media ownership that would have created a rich deal environment.
Now, Pilot Group is seeking to expand its portfolio to include advertising and marketing services shops. One executive claimed that Pilot Group is interested in buying a number of assets that would enable it to do a "roll-up," creating a new agency holding company at a later time.
One former AOL executive said one of the targets Mr. Pittman is eyeing is Interpublic Group of Cos.' Bragman Nyman Cafarelli. The executive added that Mr. Pittman is targeting PR and entertainment companies with web savvy.
Pilot Group refused to comment. A report in Ad Age sibling TelevisionWeek suggested the company had access to around $400 million in capital.
The company is staffed by a number of former marketing veterans. Partners in the venture include: Bob Sherman, former president-interactive marketing at AOL; Mayo Stuntz, a former marketing executive at AOL who also served as head of AOL's CompuServe; and Paul McNichol, another veteran media executive.
Referring to Mr. Pittman and former colleague Mr. Sherman, who was once a partner in his agency, Della Femina Rothschild Jeary Chairman Jerry Della Femina said, "They would be a formidable force. Any agency that is interested in being acquired will seek them out."
It would not be Mr. Pittman's first venture into the agency business. In 1987 he bought 4.7% of JWT Group, then parent of J. Walter Thompson and public relations agency Hill & Knowlton. He later sold the stake to WPP Group.
Pilot's plans for media-company acquisitions were first revealed by TVWeek. Mr. Sherman told the magazine, "We are a group of friends who have been in the media business professionally and want to look at TV and radio properties."
In the interview Mr. Sherman dismissed the suggestion the group's fund is limited to $400 million. "Any number you cite would be baseless," he said, indicating that Pilot had already lined up enough financing for large investments. "We are in a position where we can evaluate any opportunity that could be available."