Languishing French agency holding company Havas, currently world number six by 2002 global revenues, has received an offer from a mystery rival, eager for a 49% stake in its Media Planning Group network.

The story, although purporting to come from a source close to Havas, was refuted by the company: "Havas denies all knowledge of any specific proposal," said a spokesman, insisting that MPG is not for sale either in whole or part.

However, onlookers note the denial's key phrase is 'specific proposal' -- carefully chosen terminology that would avoid telling an untruth about non-specific soundings that may have taken place.

Joint ownership of a media network, although unusual, is not without precedent, the best known example being ZenithOptimedia. Until last fall, ZO was jointly-owned 75%-25% by Publicis Groupe and Cordiant Communications. Since the latter's acquisition by WPP, Publicis now owns 100% of the agency.

Although Havas is doing its best to discourage speculation, the rumor mill inevitably centers around the identity of a possible partner -- almost certainly another international media shop, perhaps lacking broadscale representation in regions where Havas is strong. And vice versa.

Grey Global Group and Aegis come immediately to mind; although no successful gambler ever completely excludes an outsider -- for example Africa's third largest media shop Peapco with which Havas recently concluded a non-equity partnership [WAMN: 26-Feb-04]. Peapco has operations in Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Gabon and Cameroon

Such rumors, true or otherwise, are not helpful to Havas as the group struggles through a large and discomforting restructure process aimed at bolstering financial performance.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff