Foote Cone & Belding, part of True North, is poised to buy Banks Hoggins O’Shea.
The move, understood to be imminent, could nearly double FCB’s billings, and provide the agency with some well-known figures from the ad industry: John Banks, Ken Hoggins and Chris O’Shea.
Industry sources value BHO, which was founded in 1991, at about 8m. Harry Reid, FCB president international, does not deny a deal. He says: “We have not signed any agreement yet. We are still talking to a number of people.”
It is not yet known how the acquisition would affect the creative hierarchy at the agency. Both Hoggins and O’Shea are creative partners and John Bacon is creative director at FCB.
If the deal goes through, it will throw up some client clashes: FCB handles Nabisco and BHO manages the Weetabix Advantage and Crun-chy Bran brands, as well as Sara Lee’s cakes business.
BHO holds Barclays’ B2 account, which could conflict with FCB’s Royal London Insurance business.
FCB is one of the biggest agencies in the US with about $3bn (1.8bn) worth of billings. But in the UK billings of about 40m rank it as a small to medium-sized player.
Tony Douglas, former chief executive of the Central Office of Information, will take over as chairman of FCB Europe next month. His brief is understood to include expanding the agency in Europe through acquisition, and to turn round its flagging reputation in the UK.
BHO was involved in negotiations with Tim Bell’s Chime Communications, but Bell subsequently struck a three-way deal with Martin Sorrell of WPP and HHCL & Partners (MW October 30 1997).
There was no one at BHO available for comment.