Those close to the negotiations said Ayer's acquisition of Riney was a "done deal." An Ayer spokesman denied a deal had been finalized, and Riney executives said talks continued, but insiders described the planned leadership structure.
Ayer Chairman-CEO Jerry Siano and Riney Chairman Hal Riney are expected to be co-managing partners.. Ayer board member and investor Richard Humphreys, 47, will take a more active role and oversee financial operations.
Messrs. Siano, 59, in New York and Riney, 61, in San Francisco will continue to oversee their respective offices, which would function independently, while identifying top managers to meld the agencies and eventually succeed the chiefs.
Although industry observers point out the personality contrasts between Mr. Siano, a garrulous Madison Avenue executive, and Mr. Riney, a cantankerous "maverick," their home bases on opposite coasts could buffer potential conflicts between the creatives.
Some agency insiders, however, have speculated Mr. Siano, who initiated discussions with Mr. Riney last year, will retire once the deal is announced, leaving Mr. Riney with more control. An Ayer spokesman denied Mr. Siano will retire.
There are no major conflicts between the two agencies, which share General Motors Corp. as a client. A combination is widely viewed as strengthening both shops: Mr. Riney would get a coveted New York presence-gone since Riney sold its New York office last year-and international connections for clients. Ayer would land more creative clout.
Still, one West Coast ad executive characterized the merger as "linking lifeboats in an attempt to survive," referring to Ayer's recent AT&T travails and Riney's disappointing new-business record of late..
Currently, Riney is a finalist in two $25 million to $30 million reviews: for Philips Consumer Electronics and First Interstate Bank. Agency executives say the latter would not conflict with Ayer's Citibank business, handled by a separate direct marketing unit.
A merger would strengthen both agencies' relationship with E&J Gallo Winery, a notoriously volatile client that Mr. Riney once angrily resigned. Riney is working on advertising for a new Gallo product, while Ayer handles media buying for the vintner.
Mr. Riney, who worked at Ayer's Philadelphia office early in his career, now heads an agency claiming $350 million in billings in San Francisco and Chicago. Ayer claims U.S. billings of more than $800 million and has offices in New York, Chicago Detroit and Los Angeles.M