MacManus eyes highest bidder

One way or the other, a deal which will change the structure of global advertising is being struck. The decision, as yet unmade, is in the hands of Roy Bostock, chairman and chief executive of MacManus Group, one of the world’s largest agency networks.

What we know for certain is that Bostock is selling the privately-owned company. He and a number of other MacManus senior executives are reaching retirement age, and need to realise the considerable stock they hold in the company. In a way, the MacManus situation is a rerun of the Young & Rubicam saga a few years ago. But there’s one notable difference in the script. This time there’ll be no public flotation because MacManus, despite its galaxy of blue-chip clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors and Mars, has not been nearly so well run as Y&R.

So a trade sale is on the cards. Here, Bostock appears to have three serious options. One of these is Publicis. It remains unclear how Publicis chairman and chief executive Maurice Levy would deal with account conflicts such as Renault/GM and Nestlé/Mars. But these little difficulties pall before his determination to turn Publicis into a truly global network, which can only be brought about by securing a substantial foothold in North America. Levy is believed to have put money on the table, but Bostock seems lukewarm.

More talked about is the Interpublic option. On the face of it, this is bizarre. How could a major P&G network occupy the same stable as the world’s largest Unilever agency group? But because it is unheard of does not mean it is impossible: P&G has recently changed its rules on agency conflict. It won’t, of course, have escaped the acute observer that IPG is in the process of whittling down its existing network grouping of three to two, by rolling Ammirati Puris Lintas into Lowe Group. How opportune if MacManus were to make up the numbers again. Lastly, the power of IPG’s cheque-book should not be underestimated. It is public, highly profitable, and could most easily satisfy Bostock’s ambitions for his retirement.

Then there’s Leo Burnett. Strategically, this looks the best option. It would be a more equally balanced partnership, which just happened to handle half the world’s P&G business. It would give Burnett the (strongish) second suit it does not yet possess, but must acquire at some point if it is to remain in the top league. Burnett’s existing alliance with Dentsu may or may not bear fruit, but is unlikely to be an impediment.

But can Burnett offer what Bostock wants? Like MacManus, it is a private company and would be unlikely to offer the same financial gratification as IPG. Bostock is believed to own about ten per cent of MacManus stock, a personal holding perhaps worth $100m (£63m). Would he really want to wait for Burnett to go public before he cashed in his chips? It’s an intriguing dilemma for MacManus, and Bostock personally.

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