Bolloré switches focus to market research

Vincent Bolloré, the French investor stalking Aegis, the media buyer and research group, is looking to increase his interests in the market research sector.

Groupe Bolloré, the conglomerate headed by Mr Bolloré, who is also chairman and largest shareholder of Havas, the Paris-based marketing services group, already has a 6 per cent stake in Harris Interactive, the US research group.

Mr Bolloré’s group also has a 40 per cent stake in CSA, a French research business, with an option to take a controlling interest.

In the past, Mr Bolloré has built such stakes slowly before making a move to influence or control the targeted company.

The strategy suggests that Mr Bolloré, whose Groupe Bolloré owns 29 per cent of Aegis, has pursued the UK-listed group for its research business, Synovate, as well as for its media buying units.

Most analysts had speculated that if Mr Bolloré were to gain control of Aegis, he would seek to combine its media buying teams with those of MPG, the Havas owned media buyer, but Synovate could be sold off.

Speaking to the FT at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, Mr Bolloré said: “Research is one of the parts of the business that will be very relevant for the future. Through Havas, we have some capability in that. But we have to complete the puzzle and it is important to have a research network throughout the world.

“We noticed that Harris in the US was quite an attractive company because they have quite a lot of digital business, though the company is out of favour. This is quite a small investment, but we have made contact with the management to say “Can we do something with you? Maybe some commercial links?” So it is a beginning.

Groupe Bolloré and Aegis have been been deadlocked for almost two years.

Groupe Bolloré has nominated two directors to the Aegis board. The Aegis board has opposed the nominated pair, arguing that because of their association with Mr Bolloré they would have a link to Havas, a direct rival to Aegis for media buying.

In a series of shareholder votes, prompted by Groupe Bolloré, Aegis investors have sided with the management and rejected the nominations.

“We all know that Aegis alone will not survive as an independent. And we all know that an Aegis/Havas combination is the best solution. Maybe not a merger but commercial links,” Mr Bolloré said on Thursday.

Several are concerned that Mr Bolloré, who gained effective control of Havas following a messy boardroom row at the French group, may achieve “creeping control” of Aegis without making a bid for Aegis shares.

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