Lévy makes waves in Brazil, but who’s making the profit?

“We believe this will be the decade of Latin America, driven by the Olympics and the World Cup.” Who’s this speaking? In fact, WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell, referring specifically to one of his favourite BRIC markets; but it might just as well have been his indefatigable rival, Publicis Groupe ceo Maurice Lévy, who has been hoovering up Brazilian advertising agencies as if there’s no tomorrow.

He recently bought a smallish, but trendy, digital agency AG2 , which has been stitched onto Publicis Modem. His latest headline-grabber is a bid for Talent, a privately-owned creative agency that counts Sony, Timberland and Santander among its clients.

According to the Financial Times, which broke the story today, a successfully concluded deal will give Talent a sky-high valuation of $200m (it employs about 200 people), making selling out to the big networks a highly attractive option for other independent São Paulo agencies.

One of Lévy’s gifts as a dealmaker is his ability to seduce his acquisitions into the group as “partners”, leaving them a strong independent identity less liable to defection once the earnouts are paid. The stake in BBH, still 49%, is the most notorious example. With AG2, he has been careful to remodel the network name as AG2 Publicis Modem, in Brazil. At least for now.

The thinking behind the Talent deal is no different. I’m told it’s actually a disguised takeover, to spare the acquired agency’s blushes. Publicis will take 49% when the deal is initially concluded, 11% in 6 months and the rump-end 40% in 3 years’ time. Founder Julio Ribeiro plans to stay on, but he’s of Ed Meyer vintage (78 to be precise); and the chief executive is himself 58.

Talent is a decent agency, with post-tax profits of about $15m (swelled by the Santander account) on revenues of about $50m. But the deal – though a good headline-catcher – is not game-changing for Publicis in Brazil. WPP, which itself showed earlier interest in the agency, is the dominant force. Talent is 15th in the market ranked by billings (according to the latest IBOBE figures, which exclude other marketing services revenue). Publicis’ top Brazilian agency, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, is ranked 10th, Leo Burnett 13th, Publicis Worldwide 22nd, and Salles Chemistry 33 . But WPP’s Y&R is number one, JWT number 2 and Ogilvy number 3, with Grey trailing at 41. Aggregate score? WPP 1, Publicis (even including Talent) 3.

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