Multinational media-buying and market research specialist Aegis Group is firmly fixed in the crosswires of aggressive French entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré.
Bolloré, who wrested control of Havas in June, has repeatedly assured its investors and employees that he is in the ad agency business for the long term - a claim underscored by Thursday's announcement that he has built a 6% stake in London-headquartered Aegis.
Few people now believe that Bolloré plans to dismember and sell parts of Havas. "My personal contribution [as chairman] of the Havas Group demonstrates the long-term commitment of the Bolloré Group," he said last month [WAMN: 114-Jul-05].
Aegis is the holding company for global media planning/buying giant Carat; other strings to its bow include market researcher Synovate and second-string media network Vizeum.
Havas, whose own media unit MPG has little reach outside Europe and Latin America, could benefit considerably from any association with Aegis, which boasts a strong presence in the USA and Asia. Many believe that an alliance - even a merger - could be in the offing.
Bolloré, however, insists that his Aegis stake is merely a financial move: "It is a financial investment, but it shows that the Bolloré group wants to pursue its investment in the communications area," insists a spokesman for the financier.
Aegis, meantime, is playing it cool. "We welcome any involvement from a shareholder who shows confidence in the company," says a representative in silken tones.
Although a move on Aegis would make strategic sense for Bolloré, some observers wonder whether the tycoon may also have other motives. Historically, many wealthy men bought major newspapers as a megaphone for their egos - an indulgence that until recently could also make money as well.
But in these days of media over-supply, other sirens sing to the rich and powerful. The high profile (and potentially profitable) ad agency business is seen in some quarters as a passport to the demi-monde of arts and media that mere money can't buy.
In the case of Bolloré, it could also provide a platform to demonstrate to the world that he's a better man than his old acquaintance and rival Sir Martin Sorrell.
And as a loyal Frenchman, it would also show les Americaines a thing or two!
Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff