GLOBAL BRIEF: True North acquires Wilkens - Publicis is buying up the planet, but it’s Europe for True North

While Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, criss-crosssed the world buying agencies last week, his reluctant partners at True North were quietly preparing to bolster their European presence.

While Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, criss-crosssed the world

buying agencies last week, his reluctant partners at True North were

quietly preparing to bolster their European presence.



Their target is Wilkens International, the former Ayer Europe network,

which has been in secret talks for several weeks about coming under the

wing of Foote Cone Belding’s parent company.



The contrasting approaches between the conservative True North and the

swashbuckling Levy couldn’t be more stark - Levy has just extended the

Publicis empire into Singapore and the Philippines and boasts of a

dollars 250 million ’war chest’ with which to turn his network into a

global player.



Nevertheless, True North’s acquisition of Wilkens, whose main

international clients are Seat cars and the Nivea skincare manufacturer,

Beiersdorf, may yet prove significant.



For one thing, it’s the first European takeover to be concluded

independently by the group since the fall-out which led to last year’s

scrapping of its global alliance with Publicis.



For another, it may signal the start of True North’s attempt to

establish a credible second-string network in Europe to prepare for the

time when it can extricate itself from the Publicis-FCB European joint

venture in which the French have a 51 per cent shareholding.



A more prosaic reason for the purchase may be that True North is

’infilling’ and wants to draw on Wilkens’ strength in its German

heartland rather than develop the network’s rather threadbare offering

elsewhere.



At the moment, however, neither side is keen to make too much of the

Wilkens deal. ’It’s no surprise,’ a Publicis source comments.



’Just as we’re free to develop our network, so is True North. Maybe the

joint venture will break apart at some time - but it will take more than

this to cause it.’



Brendan Ryan, FCB’s worldwide chairman and a True North board member, is

unforthcoming about the takeover, preferring instead to stress ’the very

extensive co-operation that still exists between ourselves and

Publicis’.



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