Who’s trying to buy digital agency LBi for $600m – Publicis, Omnicom or Havas?

WPP’s $540m purchase of AKQA seems to have put the (big) cats firmly among the digital pigeons with rumours abounding that Amsterdam-based LBi, slightly bigger than AKQA with $250m revenue and $22m net profit, is also looking for a buyer.

LBi, like AKQA was, is majority-owned by private equity so its chances of remaining out of the clutches of one of the biggies are slim (PE boys don’t care who they sell to so long as the money’s in cash).

Intriguingly Ad Age’s story quotes Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Levy thus: “If there is one media or tool that is truly global, it’s digital.”

So that’s it then, on its way to Publicis? Not necessarily, Omnicom, not best friends with WPP at the moment after the row over voting in Cannes, might be spurred into action as might Havas. Havas CEO David Jones is hyper-keen on all things digital but whether owner Vincent Bollore would arm him with the $600m or so it would take to buy LBi is doubtful. And Dentsu, of course, was tipped as the likeliest buyer of AKQA last year.

But why can’t these big digital agencies go it alone? Well the business just ain’t that profitable, or not as profitable as traditional advertising anyway.

LBi, led by CEO Luke Taylor (left), employs about 2,000 people to generate revenues of $250m and that’s too tight to generate enough spare cash internally to expand around the world. So you do a PE deal and, sooner or later, they sell you to a marcoms giant.

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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.