Synovate Spin-Off Sparks Aegis Takeover Talk

Now that Aegis Group has agreed to spin off its marketing and media research division Synovate to French research company Ipsos for $859 million, speculation is mounting about the fate of the pared down, pure-play media services holding company, and especially on the prospects for a new round of takeover attempts.

The UK's Daily Mail reports that Paris-based Publicis is already has prepared a $4.2 billion offer for the slimmed-down Aegis, following the completion of Synovate's sale to Ipsos.

And Publicis may have some competition from competing agency holding company WPP Group. The heads of both Publici and WPP told the Guardian in June they would be interested in parts of a trimmer Aegis.

Both Publicis and WPP have had on-again, off-again interest in Aegis. Back in 2006, after Vincent Bollore -- the French entrepreneur, chairman of Havas and corporate takeover specialist -- acquired close to 30% of Aegis, both Publicis and WPP held separate talks with him about partnering to buy the rest of the media agency holding company.

Talks ended without a deal, however, although Bollore continued to suggest he hoped to somehow gain control of Aegis and forge an alliance with Havas.

More recently, Bollore has characterized his company's investment in Aegis as "financial," not "strategic," and has suggested that he is more open to a sale of what is now a 26.5% stake in Aegis. (Bollore's position was diluted with Aegis' acquisition last year of Australia's Mitchell Communications last year.)

WPP, which had been particularly keen on the Synovate business, instead mounted a hostile takeover bid a few years back for research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres, which ultimately succeeded. It was then integrated into its research subsidiary Kantar.

It was not clear what parts of Aegis WPP is now interested in, although Aegis has a well-regarded digital arm and is strong in traditional planning and buying in Europe. It has also regained strength in the U.S. over the past year.

And while Levy and Sorrell are both known to enjoy making provocative statements in the press, the comments from both companies regarding the most recent speculation were more circumspect than the statements the CEOs made in June. WPP declined comment altogether.

A Publicis rep referred to remarks Levy made to analysts during an earnings conference call last week when he said the company was "watching the situation" with Aegis but not interested in buying the company outright.

WPP and Publicis have also been competing in an aggressive game of one-ups-manship over who has the most digital media assets, and Publicis has been the more aggressive suitor lately, acquiring a number of big digital agencies. Among Aegis' portfolio of agencies are pure-play digital shops such as Isobar, and iProspect.

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