Vincent Bolloré, Havas chairman and master of strategic infighting, on Friday upped his stake in Aegis Group from 14.7% to 15.34% - thereby spiking the guns of rival French marketing services conglomerate Publicis Groupe.

It was also on Friday that Publicis withdrew its formal £1.5 billon ($2.65bn; €2.2bn) offer, chairman/ceo Maurice Levy deeming the deal "not in the best interest of shareholders". Few onlookers believe the two announcement are unconnected.

Meantime, there is no shortage of interest in the London-headquartered media-buying and market research group. Leading the queue of suitors is Sir Martin Sorrell, whose WPP Group also on Friday confirmed it was "in discussions with a private-equity partner to explore the feasibility of a cash offer for Aegis."

For reasons best known to Sir Martin, he chose not to identify his "partner" as US-owned Hellman & Friedman, whose name has for weeks been linked with WPP and a possible move on Aegis [WAMN: 05-Oct-05]

However, Publicis' Levy has little to learn from Bolloré and Sorrell about strategic manoeuvring. He remains in the wings, an eagle eye on the actions of his peers.

Having ostensibly quit the race, he gave notice that Publicis "reserves the right to set aside" its decision if either of the following events occurs: "A third party announces a firm intention to make an offer for Aegis; or the agreement or recommendation of the board of Aegis."

The fat lady has not yet trilled.

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