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Bartle wins; Burnett, too

Pursued by many for a strategic alliance or outright acquisition, U.K. agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty finally settled on a relationship last week with Leo Burnett Co., a deal that on its face is a good one for Burnett -- but a better one for Bartle.

The beauty of the arrangement for Bartle is that it gets access to Burnett's global media buying system and a presumably hefty investment from Burnett (said to be close to $50 million) without forfeiting virtually anything: Not its independence, its culture or its privately held status.

Burnett's strategic investment allows it to acquire up to 49% of Bartle, which, according to Burnett's announcement, reflects Bartle's "insistence on maintaining majority control in perpetuity." That nets it a financial investment in a second, potential global network, but only that -- and a degree of marquis value since Bartle has been one of the most coveted bits of real estate in the agency business for four years.

Nevertheless, it is also in some respects the oddest of couplings.

Though Burnett is ranked by Advertising Age as the No. 1 agency brand in America, this is a brand that has had a tough year -- in the midst of a major reorganization after a string of prestigious account losses and management turmoil.

Then there's Bartle, the hot shop everyone wanted -- an agency that, despite its lack of an international network, has a global presence. Its work has run in more than 60 countries and earned it the high esteem of the worldwide ad community -- and of clients, too.

That Burnett is a major Procter & Gamble Co. agency while Bartle does work for Unilever is another curiosity, raising the question of whether the marketers involved are easing rigid conflict policies. Burnett Chairman-CEO Rick Fizdale said the agencies will be separate (neither will have board members from the other) so there will be no client conflicts. But media buying operations will be combined, with Burnett carrying out buying duties on a market-by-market basis while Bartle standalone media group Motive will do strategic planning for Bartle clients.

While Bartle appears to get more out of this, Burnett nevertheless makes a statement with this move. Capping a series of smaller deals, its Bartle arrangement shows Burnett's leadership is serious about investing outside the Burnett brand and the Burnett family. For an agency that built its success on investing only in itself, what this says about its changed outlook may ultimately mean as much as who gets what from any particular investment.

Merry '98

There will be plenty of advertising people sad to see 1997 come to a close, but forecasters Robert Coen of McCann-Erickson Worldwide and John Perriss of Zenith Media Worldwide have presented the nicest holiday gift of all -- predictions that the party isn't over yet.

After seeing the current year surpass forecasts, Mr. Coen sees 6.2% growth in U.S. ad spending and Mr. Perriss 6.8% in worldwide ad growth, slower than 1997 but still a happy forecast indeed.

Marketers, so often chided for timidity in supporting their brands, showed they are ready to invest when the prospects for sales and share gains look good . . . and when the agency, promotion and media communities offer exciting ideas for brand and sales-building.

That's the challenge for 1998. The economy looks good and marketers look