Terms were not disclosed, but the purchase price was estimated at $100 million in stock.
The acquisition of Hill Holliday, and its $600 million in billings, came on the heels of Interpublic's acquisition of Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, with over $200 million in billings, for $30 million in stock. Both deals had been expected (AA, Jan. 12, et seq.).
CONNORS THE BIG WINNER
The main benficiary of the sale is Jack Connors, 56 -- Hill Holliday's CEO and sole shareholder, who will become an Interpublic shareholder. In addition, a dozen top agency executives who hold phantom shares will also share in the sale proceeds.
Hill Holliday will continue operating independently under Mr. Connors, reporting directly to Interpublic Chairman-CEO Philip H. Geier Jr. It will gain global distribution capabilities through an alignment with Interpublic's Ammirati Puris Lintas.
No staff reductions or client defections are anticipated as a result of the sale.
Hill Holliday gives Interpublic a major presence in New England and another New York shop, Hill, Holliday/Altschiller. Mr. Connors said Hill Holliday has been showing 25% annual revenue growth for each of the last three years.
GROWING AGENCY SERVICES
The agency, whose creative work is well regarded, has been growing its services beyond traditional advertising, getting involved in such areas as data analytics, direct marketing and Web site development. It has also found a profitable niche in medical communi- cations, including healthcare advertising, which now represents approximately 15% of bill- ings.
Hill Holliday's client roster includes Fidelity Investments, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., BankBoston Corp. and Bay Networks.
The possibility of a Hill Holliday sale to Interpublic first surfaced in January, but was repeatedly denied by Hill Holliday executives. Mr. Connors said last week that after his most recent denial, Interpublic countered with a compelling offer that protected Hill Holliday's independence and gave the agency access to overseas resources it needs to compete for clients. "They finally got to us," said Mr. Connors.
Hill Holliday -- one of the largest and financially strongest privately owned U.S. agencies -- had been approached by a number of suitors recently, including France's Havas Advertising and Publicis S.A.
The acquisition is the second-largest agency deal this year to date, after Omnicom Group's agreement to buy GGT Group, London, for $235 million in cash and assumption of debts.
The appetite for agency acquisitions is expected to remain strong, due mostly to the need to meet growth expectations of investors and analysts.
Industry observers said holding companies are under constant pressure to produce annual revenue growth of 15% to 20%. Since most agencies can only manage organic growth of 8% to 10%, the rest of the growth is generated via acquisitions.
Besides Carmichael Lynch, Interpublic also recently looked at London-based public relations agency Shandwick, but balked at the price.