It's a Match: Ammirati, Lintas Interpublic Seeks Creative Boost For Struggling Unit

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When the ink is dry on the acquisition of Ammirati & Puris by Interpublic Group of Cos., it will be the quintessential marriage of convenience: A dashing groom takes a dowdy bride because of her parents' dowry.

In the deal expected to be announced today, Interpublic will pay an estimated $55 million to merge Ammirati with its Lintas agency. Of that, more than $20 million will go right to Ammirati CEO Martin Puris, insiders say.

Interpublic Chairman-CEO Phil Geier clearly hopes the acquisition will pay off by bolstering the bottom lines of the holding company and account-shorn Lintas.

Insiders say the merged agency moniker will be Ammirati & Puris/Lintas. The two agencies won't physically merge for several months, allowing time to sort out management issues and a conflict between Ammirati's Burger King Corp. account and McDonald's Corp. business handled by Lintas unit Fahlgren, Parkersburg, W.Va. Insiders, however, say the McDonald's account at Fahlgren is shaky.

Mr. Puris, 55, will take the helm of the New York operation of the merged agency, reporting to Lintas Americas President Spencer Plavoukos, who's now also interim CEO of Lintas' $400 million to $450 million New York office.

The roles of several other executives are ambiguous: It's possible Lintas Worldwide Chairman-CEO Ken Robbins, whose contract expires at the end of the month, will relinquish at least one of his titles.

Also unclear is how the responsibilities of Ammirati Creative Director Helayne Spivak, Lintas New York Chief Creative Officer Kevin O'Neill and Lintas Worldwide Vice Chairman Frank DeVito will be amalgamated.

"No decisions about those titles will be decided for some time," an insider said.

In an especially provocative twist, executives said that in joining the Interpublic agency family, Mr. Puris is positioned as a future contender for Mr. Geier's post. Two others on the inside track are Lowe Group Chairman Frank Lowe and McCann-Erickson Worldwide CEO John Dooner Jr.

Despite the staggering culture clash between the two agencies-Ammirati, with $550 million in billings, is regarded as one of the industry's most creative midsize shops and Lintas, one of the least-there are a number of ways in which this unusual union makes sense.

"It makes total sense economically," said one agency executive with knowledge of the deal. "And Ammirati's culture will win because it's the more vibrant, alive culture. It will be run by Ammirati, and some Lintas people will survive."

Already, the two shops share three major clients: Sterling Drug, Aetna Life & Casualty and MasterCard International.

"I think [the merger] will take Ammirati to a new level and turn them overnight from a U.S.-focused agency to a global agency, which is a good thing for MasterCard," said Joan Bogin, VP-advertising at MasterCard International's U.S. region, which dumped Lintas two years ago in favor of Ammirati. Lintas still has MasterCard's overseas account.

The marriage provides Ammirati with an international link, something it had been exploring for clients Compaq Computer Corp. and United Parcel Service of America.

Lintas' 1993 worldwide billings were pegged at $4.8 billion. The New York headquarters, however, has been rocked by account losses worth as much as $200 million in billings since last October, making Ammirati the larger of the two New York shops.

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