Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt; Omnicom Group; True North Communications; and WPP Group are among those believed to be looking at the Paris-based group, which gets about 40% of its billings from Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York.
Investment banker Goldman, Sachs & Co., London, is serving as adviser to BDDP, which had gross income of $278.5 million in 1995 on billings of $2 billion.
Walter Butler, chairman of a control and oversight group put into place when private investors injected cash into BDDP in 1993, said BDDP itself is not for sale. The control committee must approve all major decisions.
"We are always examining possibilities such as raising capital through a stock-market introduction, or perhaps an association with a minority partner," Mr. Butler said last week. "But we do not, at least today, have any intention of giving up our majority share in the agency."
Officials from Omnicom, WPP, True North and Bozell declined to comment.
Goldman Sachs has circulated a prospectus and set a deadline of this week for non-binding bids, according to some agency executives. Mr. Butler and another executive familiar with the situation denied the existence of a prospectus or a deadline.
OPERATING PROFIT UP
Although BDDP's 1995 results won't be released officially until month's end, Mr. Butler said, "We will be reporting 1995 operating profits of around $22 million, and net financial cash debt of around $20 million.
"That means three times as much operating profit since the 1993 restructuring, but three times less debt than the $70 million there was then. These are some reasons why we feel the agency is really showing itself to be in good shape, and ready to attract possible new partners."
Other companies likely to have been contacted by Goldman Sachs include Interpublic Group of Cos., Cordiant, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Euro RSCG and Grey Advertising. All but Interpublic share Procter & Gamble Co. as a client with WRG.
A Cordiant board member said it's not interested; Grey officials declined to comment. Executives for Interpublic and Euro RSCG couldn't be reached, while DMB&B executives said they aren't looking at BDDP.
One holding company executive believes WPP wants to bid for all of BDDP, with the intention of then selling WRG to either that shop's own management or to M&C Saatchi, London.
McCRACKEN COULD BE SOLD
WRG owns several smaller units that could be sold off, including promotion agency McCracken Brooks, Minneapolis, and direct-marketing agency Bastoni Barnes, New York.
WRG management doesn't fancy the notion of a new partner, according to executives close to the agency, and has studied the option of a management buyout. But much of BDDP's debt is attached to the New York agency, for which many observers say the French company overpaid.
Contributing: Pat Sloan, Bruce Crumley.