IPG and WPP "are both seeking to build, enhance or create a big new business center around non-traditional advertising," said one executive familiar with holding company investments.
Within the next three weeks, WPP's J. Walter Thompson Co., New York, whose JWT Direct unit boasted $105 million in 1996 direct billings, is expected to announce a union with two other shops under WPP's umbrella: Washington-based RTC Direct and promotion shop Einson Freeman Partners, Paramus, N.J.
`EXTRA, ADDED PERMISSION'
Expanding JWT's direct offerings "gives a prospective client extra, added permission to choose Thompson," said President Mitch-ell Orfuss, adding that JWT Direct in recent months has made joint pitches with RTC Direct.
RTC has $63 million in direct billings through a client roster that includes U S West and Federal Express Corp. and has strong database capabilities.
JWT Direct is virtually dwarfed by sister global powerhouse Ogil-vy & Mather Direct, New York, nearly three times as large as its sibling.
At IPG, DraftDirect Worldwide, Chicago, last week acquired promotion shop D.L. Blair Inc.
"The real thing we want to do is broaden our capabilities," said CEO Howard Draft. " Wunderman is the best example of how this can be done so far," he added, referring to Young & Rubicam's recent formation of a partnership linking its Wunderman Cato Johnson with Y&R Advertising.
The Blair acquisition-and the $143 million in billings it brings with it-will push DraftDirect over the $1 billion billings mark this year, Mr. Draft said. DraftDirect also is looking at acquiring resources for ethnic, healthcare and entertainment marketing.
Meanwhile, Omnicom Group's non-traditional billings growth continues, now accounting for 40% of its $2.64 billion in revenue.
At Cordiant, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Lieber, Levett Koenig, Farese, Babcock are expected this month to unveil the first piece of their joint assignment for Delta Air Lines' $100 million direct and general account.
Saatchi has given Lieber Levett space in its offices, but executives close to the agency said a pact between the two gives Saatchi the right to acquire Lieber Levett after 12 months. Lieber Levett CEO Bob Lieber declined to give specifics.
"We like our independence. We have some acquisition plans of our own," he said, adding that Saatchi and his agency will talk about their relationship down the line, "but I can't forecast the future."
Tony Dalton, vice chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising North America, said Lieber Levett "does have a rent-free period" in Saatchi's building and then "we'll review [the relationship] after 12 months. If everyone thinks it is a good idea, we'll make it more formal."
Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Pat Sloan