PUBLICIS ON PROWL FOR NEW INT'L ALLIES;TROUBLED FCB PARTNERSHIP ENDS, BUT TRUE NORTH EXPECTS MORE TALKS

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After months of stormy negotiations with partner True North Communications, Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy made it clear late last week he is looking for new international partners, particularly in the U.S.

A global alliance between the U.S. and French groups officially ended last week, but an operating agreement continues under which Foote, Cone & Belding handles Publicis' clients in the U.S. and Publicis works for FCB clients in Europe.

The alliance foundered in a power struggle when both partners started making separate international moves rather than pursuing a common global vision.

`EVERYTHING OPEN'

"Until now, we decided not to open any doors" to new partners, Mr. Levy said. "The most important thing for us is to enhance our global position. Everything will be open. It's obvious we will look first at the U.S.-it's 50% of the worldwide [advertising] market."

The first cracks appeared in the alliance when Publicis bought French network FCA-and its U.S. agency Bloom-without consulting FCB. Arbitration over the issue started in late 1993, and Publicis reacted by rescinding the alliance agreement, though the French group later agreed to a standstill arrangement to allow further negotiation.

It was Publicis' turn to be furious when the True North holding company was set up without consulting Publicis, the largest shareholder in True North with a 20% stake. French executives felt Publicis had been relegated to a subordinate role as True North focused on building a Chicago-based international holding company along the lines of Interpublic Group of Cos. and Omnicom Group.

Negotiations started badly, with Mr. Levy and Bruce Mason, True North's chairman-CEO, barely on speaking terms.

LEVY, SAATCHI DEAL

Mr. Levy and Maurice Saatchi, an old friend, have already struck a deal under which the joint Publicis FCB media-buying arm Optimedia handles media planning and buying for M&C Saatchi Agency's worldwide British Airways account.

In a statement last week, True North said talks will continue to forge a new arrangement between the two companies.

A substantial cross-shareholding still exists between True North and Publicis.

True North's stock surged on the news, climbing 8% to a 52-week high of $22.13 by noon March 1.

A spokesman said investors were reacting to both the alliance expiration and the fact the holding company is considering an initial public offering for new-media unit TN Technologies.

True North said last week it's retaining investment advisers to explore an IPO of the unit, a joint venture with R/GA Digital Studios.

Mark Gleason contributed to this story.

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