WPP Hires Merrill for Grey Global Due Diligence

15 July 2004

WPP Group, the planet's second largest agency holding company [after Omnicom], on Wednesday made its first overt move to bid for up-for-grabs Grey Global Group.

WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell has hired investment bank Merrill Lynch, to conduct due diligence -- a standard preliminary move to any takeover bid.

On the face of it WPP has a clear run at Grey (Omnicom and Publicis Groupe having both declared themselves non-runners). Also on the face of it, the apparent absence of competition is manna from heaven for Sir Martin who is known to be partial to a bargain.

But Grey's chairman/ceo, the wily 77-year-old Ed Meyer , doesn't have to sell to anyone if he doesn't like the colour of their money. Or their eyes. He owns 16% of Grey plus 59% of its Class B voting shares.

However, those who know Sir Martin think it unlikely he would go to the not inconsiderable expense of hiring Merrill without first having sounded Meyer on his willingness to sell.

And Meyer, in turn, would have had obtained a clear indication from Grey's largest client, Procter & Gamble, as to who might or might not be an acceptable buyer.

Despite WPP's in depth involvement with Unilever, the ever-plausible Sorrell may have convinced P&G that he really can erect an impregnable Chinese wall [WAMN: 14-Jul-04]. Such a structure is likely known as Red Cell.

Meantime, as the sell-off saga unfolds, some media observers wonder whether distant calls of 'Banzai' from an easterly direction are entirely a figment of their imagination?

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff