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NEW YORK-In one of the most unlikely marriages in Madison Avenue history, industry iconJerry Della Femina is merging his agency with Ketchum Advertising's beleaguered office here.

The merged shop, bearing the appropriately wacky moniker Jerry & Ketchum, "is way out of the box for Ketchum," acknowledged Paul Alvarez, chairman-ceo of Ketchum Communications, Pittsburgh.

The new agency, with billings of $70 million to $80 million, includes Jerry Inc. clients Newsweek, Food & Wine, Pudgie's Chicken and Financial Security Assurance. Ketchum brings Coty, Rail Europe, the French Government Tourist Office and Reckitt & Colman. The only conflict appears to be Coty and Jerry Inc.'s Del Laboratories.

Mr. Della Femina-a silver-tongued industry bon vivant, talk show host, restaurateur and grocer-said the merger gives him the structure and resources that would have taken him three to four years to assemble for Jerry Inc., formed in November 1992. He set up shop after leaving Della Femina, McNamee-now part of Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG-in a deal that included his promise not to lend his last name to a new agency.

"I came back into the business to have fun," Mr. Della Femina said. "I spent a lot of time with the French, and I didn't laugh."

Executives characterized the deal as a merger, not an acquisition, with both parties receiving stock in the other company. Ketchum's San Francisco, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh offices aren't affected.

Mr. Della Femina, 57, becomes ceo, chairman and creative director of Jerry & Ketchum. A casualty of the merger is Steve Penchina, Ketchum's chairman-executive creative director, who is leaving.

"Two creative superstars sharing the spotlight?" Mr. Penchina said. "I think it's hard to share the spotlight with Jerry Della Femina."

As for Ketchum, the deal ends a 21/2-year search for a partner.

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