Publicis' Levy still wants U.S. shop

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While his failed hostile takeover of former partner True North Communications may have left Publicis SA Chairman Maurice Levy bowed, the feisty executive last week said he was far from beaten in his bid to acquire a U.S. agency.

"We need a much stronger presence in the U.S.," Mr. Levy said. "I am confident that 1998 will be the year things really start happening for Publicis in the U.S. During the tender offer, we never stopped talking with other potential partners, and we are continuing those discussions."

On Jan. 7, Publicis acquired a 75% share in ad agency SMW, Toronto, which has billings of $56 million. The agency will be renamed Publicis-SMW. The purchase makes Publicis No. 6 in Canada, with billings of $154 million, including those of Montreal agency BCP, acquired in September 1996.

Although Mr. Levy acknowledged the attempted takeover was "a failure--there is no other term for it," he insisted the effort was based on sound business strategy. Because of the efforts and determination Publicis demonstrated, he said, it won respect from U.S. financial markets, as well as advertisers and agencies.

Mr. Levy said many ad executives have written to applaud him and propose possible partnerships. Such esteem, Mr. Levy asserted, should aid Publicis in making another acquisition.

He said "the decision in the U.S. is still divided between buying one big agency or a few" medium-size ones to get Publicis into the desired top 15 to 20 in U.S. billings.

Regarding his now-diluted holdings in True North, he said "all options remain open."

Copyright January 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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