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BBH loses out to part-owner Publicis Groupe in bid battle for Brazil’s Neogama

It seems that months-long negotiations over who will own the controlling stake in fashionable Brazilian agency Neogama BBH (see my earlier post here) are now completed. So says the Brazilian trade press.

And the answer, shortly to be announced on the French Bourse, is: Publicis Groupe. Not BBH.

Do such technicalities matter, given that all these agencies are part of the same, happy, family? Well, yes they do. There’s more for micro-network BBH in this award-winning agency than a 35 per cent stake.

Neogama’s biggest single client is burgeoning Brazilian bank Bradesco, but the agency also plays an important role in servicing BBH global clients such as Unilever and Diageo.

As is well known, Publicis Groupe is essentially Procter & Gamble-aligned. The only reason BBH, and therefore Neogama BBH, is permitted to handle Unilever business is a ring-fencing 51 per cent stake in BBH held by its staff, principally group chairman Nigel Bogle (PG owns the rest).

If Publicis Groupe has directly bought out Neogama BBH, which it appears to have done, what will happen to that sizeable chunk of Unilever business? That is the question – as posed by rival Unilever agencies WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom.

Neogama’s principal shareholder is its flamboyant founder, Alexandre Gama (left). His is the only top-ten agency Brazilian agency that, up to now, has managed to remain independent. His motives for selling out? He has been running his agency a long time – over nine years. Bradesco is overweight as the main client. And money, yes money. Gama’s services are highly in demand, and he knows it. He has been hawking his stake about for some time – in the not unreasonable expectation that he will get a bigger wedge from Publicis if he does so.

Ideally, BBH should have been the one to buy him out. But it doesn’t have the money. So Publicis, which probably had first refusal anyway, stepped in and snapped up the agency. Gama will now have to report directly to PG group chief executive Maurice Lévy, which he will not enjoy very much. By all accounts, the two men loathe each other.

Even when the Neogama acquisition is completed, WPP – owner of Y&R, JWT and Ogilvy – will continue to be the biggest biller in Brazil.

Neogama’s $667m turnover in 2011 was five per cent up on the previous year, according to Inter-Media Project.

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Alexandre Gama bbh bradesco brazil Maurice Levy neogama Nigel Bogle procter & gamble publicis groupe unilever

About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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