True North Communications is close to a deal to acquire Wilkens International, the former Ayer Europe network.
The deal comes as True North and Paris-based Publicis Communication, uneasy partners in a European joint venture, continue to pursue international growth separately.
An announcement on the acquisition, in which True North will buy ComInterest, Wilkens' holding company, is expected this week. Reinhard Springer, one of the owners of Wilkens, confirmed a deal is near, and an executive close to the talks said legal details are all that remain to be worked out.
A True North spokeswoman said only that the company is interested in international expansion but "has nothing to report at this time."
WILKENS TO REMAIN SEPARATE
The deal marks True North's first purchase in Europe since Publicis unilaterally ended a worldwide alliance between the two last February. True North plans to run Wilkens as a separate entity, rather than as part of its European joint venture with Publicis, which remains intact.
Nearly all of Wilkens' $175 million in billings comes from Germany, though it has offices in several other countries.
In early 1995, N.W. Ayer & Partners sold its minority stake in Ayer Europe back to the local agencies that made up the network. They, in turn, sold 49% of the network in October 1995 to Konstantin Jacoby and Mr. Springer, co-founders of Germany's ninth-largest agency, Springer & Jacoby, Hamburg, and Holger Uhlmann, an adman brought in as chairman of the renamed Wilkens International.
The rest of the network was owned by Ayer Europe Chairman Dick Hedger, now chairman of Wilkens International, and other investors.
"Holger Uhlmann, who has done a lot for the network since it was acquired, talked us into selling out," Mr. Springer said. He wouldn't discuss price or other terms of the deal.
Wilkens International's main international clients are Volkswagen Group's SEAT and Beiersdorf, marketer of Nivea skincare products. Before True North's Foote, Cone & Belding lost Colgate-Palmolive Co., one of its biggest clients, to Young & Rubicam in a '95 global consolidation, client conflict with Beiersdorf would have prevented the Wilkens acquisition.
FCB'S LIMITED PRESENCE
FCB has a limited presence in Europe beyond Publicis FCB, Europe's largest network with 1995 billings of $3.3 billion, according to Ad Age figures.
A new alliance between Publicis and True North is unlikely at this point, but so is a clean split in Europe. Multinational clients of FCB depend heavily on the joint venture, and Publicis clients still use FCB in other parts of the world.
In the past year, Publicis has signaled its intention to build its own worldwide network with acquisitions in Mexico, Brazil and Canada. True North has bought agencies in Chile, Canada and the U.S., folding them into FCB.
Contributing: Mark Gleason
Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.