Strength in siblings

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Assuming Interpublic Group of Cos.' deal to acquire True North Communications closes later this year, it will usher in the largest media-agency consolidation in the advertising business, bringing more than $30 billion in total billings under one roof.

Universal McCann, Initiative Media and TN Media are not expected to merge, however. By keeping the three as sibling shops, Interpublic will gain superior media strength in a marketplace increasingly shaped by massive consolidations among media companies, such as multimedia behemoth AOL Time Warner.

According to Advertising Age's list of top worldwide media agencies, ranked in order of annual billings, WPP Group's MindShare currently leads the pack with $17 billion in billings, while Universal McCann comes in second with $15 billion. Initiative Media ranks sixth with billings totaling $10 billion, and TN Media (which for now has put its name change to Pervasive Media on hold) is No. 11, with billings of $7 billion.

John Lazarus, senior VP-exec director of national broadcast for TN Media, said he believes the new owner likely would run it as a separate operation.

"That does not mean that elements may not be merged and put together," said Lou Schultz, chairman-CEO of Initiative. "There could be some back-room consolidations that could be a benefit to them. There could perhaps be some systems and tools that could be of value to the system....[Interpublic] is not in this just to build a bunch of independent silos, but to have a company that is really strong and client-centric."

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