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Publicis to buy Razorfish ad agency from Microsoft

Publicis struck a $530 million deal with Microsoft to buy the Razorfish ad agency and boost its position in digital communications, the world's third-largest communications group said on Sunday.

Publicis will issue 6.5 million treasury shares to the software giant, worth €162 million ($232.6 million) at Friday's closing price, and pay the rest in cash from its ample liquidity position. The two firms, which concluded a cooperation deal in June, also signed a strategic alliance agreement to deepen their ties in digital advertising while Microsoft uses Bing as its battleship in the search engine war with Google Inc.

Publicis is already the number one in digital advertising and Razorfish was number two in the single advertising sector that still shows growth rates despite the economic crisis.

The group, based in Paris, beat Britain's WPP Plc and Japan's Dentsu Inc. in the final bidding from an original field of some eight parties interested in the Microsoft unit.

“The price paid was the result of an auction process,” Publicis chief executive Maurice Levy told reporters on a telephone conference from the south of France.

He said the transaction valued Razorfish at some 1.4 to 1.5 times the revenues, which he called in line with sector deals.

He added Publicis did not plan any more acquisition of this size in the sector, but would look at any opportunities. Any of these deals would be smaller-sized acquisitions. At end June, Publicis had €3.5 billion in liquidities. The transaction means that Publicis will generate 25% of its sales from the digital sector, up from 21% at the half-year stage, a figure Levy originally targeted for end-2010.

Publicis is the world's third-largest advertising group with ad agencies such as Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, media buyers Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia while in digital advertising it owns Digitas. Razorfish was founded in 1995 and became part of Microsoft in 2007 as part of the $6 billion aQuantive acquisition. Its clients include Best Buy, Ford, McDonald's, Microsoft and Starwood Hotels. (Reuters)