Buoyant Aegis boss Jerry Buhlmann prepares to uncork his cheque book

What a difference a few months makes, at media buyer Aegis anyway.

Back in March CEO Jerry Buhlmann had to announce that 2010’s profits had been hammered down to £68m, largely due to a stonking £37m bad debt from a Spanish client.

Now he’s announced organic growth of 9.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, 10.1 per cent from media buyer Aegis (Carat and Vizeum) and 7.3 per cent from market research arm Synovate. Total revenues were up over 16 per cent.

This is a faster rate of organic growth than any of Aegis’ marcoms rivals who all came in between six and seven per cent.

Investors and financial analysts were remarkably forgiving about the Nueva Rumasa bad debt which stems from an arrangement struck before Buhlmann took over as CEO. Nevertheless it still seems to be an accident waiting to happen that nobody did much about.

So these figures are important; for Buhlmann, for the company’s chances of remaining independent and for clients too. Aegis is the only one of the marcoms big six – WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu and Havas are the others – built around a media planning and buying core so it gives clients an alternative to the one-stop solutions hawked by its rivals.

Buhlmann also noted that the company was generating cash even after paying £207m for Australia’s Mitchell Communications last year and that it had “significant undrawn available credit.” In other words it’s willing and able to make more big acquisitions.

This clearly has a bearing on its chances of remaining out of the clutches of its rivals.

For years it looked as though a tie-up with Havas was inevitable as Havas’ biggest shareholder Vincent Bollore is also the biggest individual shareholders in Aegis with 29 per cent of the company. But Bollore recently admitted that Aegis was now out of his reach.

On the face of it it’s hard to see where Aegis will spend its money other than on smaller bolt-on acquisitions. There aren’t that many substantial media independents left.

He may try to boost Synovate but Aegis still has to show that it can generate anything like the same returns from market research as it can from media buying.

He could be really bold of course and buy a creative agency, Havas even (which owns media buyer MPG).

That really would put the cat among the marcoms pigeons.

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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.