We’re still waiting for the big agency deal – could it be Publicis buying Interpublic?

Well BNET’s Jim Edwards, the man who brought us the gory details of Grey London’s problems with its clients over un-returned discounts, thinks so anyway.

Edwards argues that IPG is still hobbled by the debts it owes to its clients from 2004 (Grey is owned by WPP) but that these are gradually receding through inflation and some of these clients may have disappeared or lost interest anyway. So it is buyable.

Publicis, on the other hand, is on the crest of a wave with longstanding boss Maurice Levy deciding to stay on and buying agencies left, right and centre.

But he needs a megadeal to catch ancient adversary Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP and buying IPG would be it.

Obviously such a deal would involve client issues, Edwards instances Unilever and Procter & Gamble, but both seem to rub along pretty well within WPP, WPP acquiring P&G when it bought Grey.

The reaction to such a deal within the US, which doesn’t take kindly to its big companies being bought by foreigners, might also be an issue. But it’s a while since the French were characterised there as ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ after their (wise) refusal to join the invasion of Iraq and Levy has taken endless pains to ensure that his agencies are seen as part of the US establishment.

Publicis Groupe agency Saatchi & Saatchi’s head office is now in New York and when new General Motors CMO Joel Ewanick rudely dumped Publicis from the Chevrolet account he was careful to move Cadillac to the agency as compensation after lobbying by Levy (the fact that it moved from BBH, 49 per cent own by Publicis is just one of those things).

All this could be idle speculation of course but IPG, although it has recovered somewhat under boss Michael Roth, still hardly looks like a world beater. McCann is still the biggest single agency network worldwide but resolutely unexciting although the arrival of ex-Mother creative Linus Karlsson is supposed to change that.

Its other big network DraftFCB still looks like a camel, a horse designed by a committee.

Well we’ll see, there could be something brewing. But WPP’s Sir Martin is hardly going to sit idly by if there is.

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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.