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Interpublic Group of Cos., continuing its buying spree, is negotiating a deal to acquire Warwick Baker O'Neill, New York.

Executives close to Interpublic said the agency holding company also is studying ways to better integrate its autonomous agencies as it prepares to close its acquisition of Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis.

Interpublic Chairman-CEO Philip H. Geier Jr. was traveling at press time and could not be reached; Warwick President-Chief Creative Officer Kevin O'Neill declined comment.

With billings of $182 million, the deal for Warwick Baker O'Neill could be worth about $30 million, slightly less than Carmichael Lynch.


If it acquires Warwick -- a shop with a solid, if unremarkable, reputation that has scored recently with wins for Panasonic and Fruit of the Loom -- Interpublic will have added more than $1 billion in billings through acquisitions so far this year.

In February, it reached an agreement to acquire Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, with $220 million in billings. In March, it acquired Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, an agency with $600 million in billings. Warwick counts among its clients Bausch & Lomb and Fruit of the Loom.


Although continued autonomy was a big factor in both the Carmichael Lynch and Hill Holliday deals, Interpublic is said to be looking at ways to better coordinate its growing group of autonomous shops.

Hill Holliday will report to Mr. Geier, while Carmichael Lynch will report to Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., part of Lowe Group. Gotham, New York, also uses Lowe's international distribution.

"I think [the establishment of an umbrella for the smaller agencies] is inevitable. . . . Obviously, they can't keep spilling these things out," said Jim Dougherty, an analyst with Prudential Securities.

But anything seen as conflicting with the shops' autonomy should be approached with caution, observers warned.

They noted that a big part of Interpublic's appeal to independent agencies courted for acquisitions is the company's reputation for leaving shops alone after the purchases.

"When you're buying someone like [Hill Holliday CEO] Jack Connors . . . and you've made some assurances of autonomy, you don't turn around and change that," said Alan Gottesman, managing director of West End Consulting.

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