GfK Gives Up Quest to Acquire Taylor Nelson Sofres

That Leaves Just One Very Persistent Suitor: WPP

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NEW YORK ( -- German research firm GfK today dropped its bid to acquire Taylor Nelson Sofres, paving the way for WPP Group to acquire the London-based market research giant.

That brings WPP one step closer to overtaking Omnicom Group for bragging rights as the biggest marketing holding company in the world -- but that doesn't mean TNS is going to make it easy for WPP CEO Martin Sorrell to reach that milestone.

Not interested
TNS said it still wants nothing to do with WPP's $2.2 billion takeover bid filed earlier this month. And the London Times website reported that TNS' largest shareholder, Cedar Rock Capital, rejected WPP's offer. But with no other suitors involved, it wouldn't be out of the question for the proposed price to drop, executives close to the matter said.

GfK's move ends a nearly four-month-long tug-of-war. It was forced to end talks with TNS after it came up short in trying to finance an all-cash offer to buy the company. "We are glad that GfK has clarified its position, at last," a WPP spokesman said in an e-mail today.

While acquiring TNS may still not be a cakewalk for WPP, one observer believes that it probably won't see any more competitors. "With WPP's aggressiveness in winning this deal, it probably is not going to make someone else jump in to try and best WPP," noted Stan Sandberg, a partner with boutique investment bank Gridley & Co. "When Mr. Sorrell wants a business, he's willing to pay up for it, as evidenced by the price tag for 24/7 Real Media, which WPP acquired last year for $649 million, and a number of other deals."

Push comes to shove
WPP -- after repeatedly being rebuffed -- earlier this month moved to swallow TNS via a hostile takeover. If this and the potential Avenue A/ Razorfish deal come to fruition, WPP could be nearly $3 billion lighter.

The acquisition of TNS would not only make WPP the world's largest holding company but the second-largest market-research company in the world behind Nielsen.
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