Publicis Retains M&A Appetite in Midst of Megamerger

Will Maurice's 'Buy' Tendency Mesh With Omnicom's 'Build' Strategy?

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Publicis Groupe's planned merger with Omnicom hasn't sated the holding company's acquisition appetite. Since late July, when the pairing was announced, the Paris-based Publicis has purchased -- or proposed to purchase -- a dozen digital, data and media shops from Brazil to Poland and Ohio to India.

Its latest is a proposal to buy a majority stake in London-based Walker Media, which is 75%-owned by M&C Saatchi and valued at $75 million. While Publicis' recent investments are regional and small relative to its purchases over the last two years -- it snagged Amsterdam-based Lbi for $540 million and Hamilton, N.J.-based Rosetta for $575 million -- the timing of a shopping spree in the midst of a pending megamerger raises questions. For the ever-hungry Publicis, when is enough enough? And how will Publicis' insatiable appetite jibe with Omnicom's philosophy to build vs. buy?

In April, Publicis told investors it planned to spend $4 billion in digital-agency acquisitions over the next five years; four months later it announced its merger with U.S.-based Omnicom. Since then, it seems to have increased the velocity of acquisitions. During that time, Omnicom has made only five.

Michael Seidler, CEO of Madison Alley Global Ventures, said Publicis' recent acquisitions are "plug-ins" that "fill capability gaps at reasonable prices." If the past is any indication, he said the holding company, which has been "successful at acquiring and building large agencies," will likely continue to shop for both big and small firms in the future.

Meanwhile, WPP has out-acquired Publicis Groupe, having purchased or taken majority stakes in 24 firms this year -- though it isn't, of course, in the midst of the biggest merger in advertising history. Interpublic has quietly acquired 11 firms.

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