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
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
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