Grey profits slump raises questions <BR>over future

NEW YORK - The future of Grey Global Group as an independent agency network is being questioned again today, after it unveiled a 71.3% slump in net income to $7.8m (£5.5m) in 2001, from $27.2m in 2000.

Revenues for the group, which owns the Grey Worldwide advertising agency, media-buying group Mediacom, and the PR network GCI Group, fell by 2.4% for the year to $8.1bn. For the last quarter of 2001, the fall in gross billings was more dramatic -- a decrease of 13.9% to $2bn.

The group's future, the subject of speculation for a couple of years, has fallen under the spotlight again following the acquisition of B|Com3 by Publicis last week, in a move that will create the world's fourth-largest advertising network.

As that announcement was made, the market immediately began to look at other possible targets for industry consolidation, and Grey's name came into the picture, along with that of Aegis Group and Cordiant Communications.

Of the major communications companies in the world, Grey has one of the lowest profiles, and its septuagenarian chairman and CEO, Ed Meyer, does not court publicity or have the same prominence as other agency bosses, such as WPP Group's Sir Martin Sorrell or Publicis' Maurice Levy.

Meyer's shareholdings in Grey may mean it is not vulnerable to a hostile takeover, but industry sources have speculated that he is under pressure to merge with a bigger partner.

Grey has attributed the fall in billings to "reductions in client spending, principally attributable to the overall economic weakness". It said that its technology and telecommunications income had been the most seriously affected -- a trend reflected across the industry.

The company also wrote off $32.2m, relating to investments in internet businesses and other costs.

Grey Worldwide had significant new-business wins in 2001, including Mars Bar and Electrolux in Europe and Advil in the US. This year, it has added Procter & Gamble's global advertising for its Clairol hair colouring brands to its client list.

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Jennifer Whitehead, recommends

Grey Global Group

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