Will Freud PR quit Publicis and tie up with Engine or M&C Saatchi?

UK PR supremo Matthew Freud of Freud Communications has been here before, leaving the Omnicom marcoms company in 2001 after it bought his owner Abbott Mead Vickers.

Now, according to the Financial Times, he’s thinking of quitting current owner Publicis Groupe, which bought 50.1 per cent of what is now the UK’s biggest consumer PR agency in 2005. The deal valued the whole company at around £50m.

Apparently Freud finds being in a big company frustrating (again) and thinks Publicis has not provided the global expansion opportunities it should.

It also reveals, intriguingly, that Freud himself owns stakes in both Engine Group and M&C Saatchi, both ambitious mini-marcoms outfits whose top management are in the veteran stage. Might the ever-ambitious Matthew decide that they offer a better path to world domination with himself as dominator-in-chief?

Leaving the Publicis Groupe would be both tricky and expensive. Last year, when most UK marketing services company were struggling in the recession, Freud increased both revenues and profits by more than 25 per cent, making £6.7m pre-tax on revenues of £33m. Its clients include Sony, Nike, Asda and the 2012 London Olympics.

So if Peter Scott’s Engine were to buy Freud that would account for pretty well all the £60m or so max he recently raised from US PE company HIG Capital. M&C doesn’t have £60m in loose cash either. But a merger would be a possibility.

Publicis boss Maurice Levy won’t be best pleased by this news, unless he takes the view that Freud causes too much turbulence and he would be best rid of him.

A Publicis insider told the FT that the company’s approach to Freud was “completely hands off” and that the supremely well-connected Freud, who’s married to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elizabeth, “reports only to God.”

With whom he’s doubtless on first name terms.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.