Havas Hounds Sniff Out i-Agency Prey

03 January 2007

PARIS: Not to be outdone by compatriot French holding company Publicis Groupe - which last month ingested US interactive-shop Digitas in a $1.3 billion (€985.1m; £663.7m) gulp - Havas chairman Vincent Bolloré has urged his bloodhounds to sniff out similar prey.

Bolloré, a man for whom leisure reading is a cash-positive balance sheet, recently disposed of bonds to the value of $350 million to line Havas's acquisition warchest.

But succulent digital prey is thin on the ground these days, most of the independent hotshops having fallen to the conglomerates during the first web boom at the turn of the century.

And, according to AdMedia Partners' managing director Seth Alpert, these acquisitions are finally paying off.

He notes that the private equity wolf-packs are also circling the remaining successful independents, in direct competition with the agency groups. "What we're seeing is . . . new competition to holding companies in these acquisition races," Alpert notes.

Piper Jaffray equity analyst Scott Kessler agrees. "There's continued demand for these services. We do expect continued consolidation in the area."

A prime target is said to be AKQA - currently the largest surviving independent hotshop - which insiders say is being touted for sale by majority stockholder Francisco Partners, an Anglo-American private equity firm.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff