WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell tips Havas to buy Aegis

Which will prompt a Gallic chuckle or two from Havas chairman Vincent Bollore and his cronies.

What is perfidious Albionite Sir Martin up to now, they’ll think. Trying to discover our intentions? Winding up Maurice Levy at Publicis Groupe?

Aegis, the world’s biggest independent media buyer, is in talks to sell its market research arm Synovate to French researcher Ipsos for around £500m.

If Ipsos goes so would a big chunk of Aegis debt and the sought-after media buyer would be on the menu for Havas (whose ultimate boss Bollore also owns 26.5 per cent of Aegis), Publicis Groupe (which would become nearly as big as WPP and US giant Omnicom if it bought Aegis) and maybe others besides.

Sir Martin told the Guardian that he might be interested in bits of Aegis, maybe its digital network Isobar.

But he thinks Bollore is in the driving seat.

“Jerry Buhlmann is chief executive [of Aegis Group] in a company with a 30% shareholder sitting on his shoulder, a Bolloré parrot on his shoulder. It is not in his gift [to sell], you have to go and bend the knee to Vincent, have to ask his permission. He decides what happens, he can stop it. Even if it is 51% [of voters required to sell Synovate or Aegis Media] it is 51% of those voting and he is in control of it.”

Bollore might be in control of such an auction but Havas (if not the whole Bollore industrial empire) would find the £2bn plus required to buy Aegis a very big mouthful.

Bollore said some time ago that he now sees his stake in Havas as a “financial” rather than strategic investment, although he could have changed his mind.

WPP, which dominates the global media market through Mindshare, MediaCom, MEC, Group M and poster specialist Kinetic, would hit anti-trust problems in most jurisdictions if it bought Aegis too.

And Sorrell has said several times recently that he’s only going to spend £200m on acquisitions this year, much of which he’s spent already on Germany’s Commarco and various digital agencies in Brazil.

WPP shareholders would not welcome a big move for Aegis as they’re still suffering twinges of indigestion from his last big buy, £1.1bn researcher TNS in 2008.

This column’s five euros is on Aegis, if indeed it is sold, returning to France (it is based on the French Carat media business) but at Publicis Groupe not Havas. That would be the big deal to bring CEO Maurice Levy’s distinguished career to a (possibly) glorious conclusion.

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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.