New CEO at ad group Havas seeks acquisitions

PARIS Thu Apr 28, 2011 1:53am EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - Ad group Havas (EURC.PA) is seeking acquisitions in emerging countries, digital and mobile marketing in a bid to increase revenue by a billion euros in the coming years, its new chief executive told Reuters.

David Jones, who took over as CEO in early March in a management shake up, has budgeted some 750 million euros ($1.1 billion) for acquisitions as part of a three-year growth plan backed by its top shareholder, French businessman Vincent Bollore.

"We are entering into a new phase for Havas," Jones said in an interview. "We now have the means to pursue external growth and it is important that we spend the money wisely."

This is a marked change for Havas, the world's sixth-largest advertising group, which has spent the past five years reducing its debt after a series of costly acquisitions weakened its balance sheet.

Jones aims to catch up with larger rivals Publicis (PUBP.PA), WPP (WPP.L), and Omnicom (OMC.N), who have outpaced it in terms of growth and profits in recent years.

Its share price has also lagged. It rose 20 percent in 2010 as the sector was buoyed by the macroeconomic recovery, while WPP climbed 33 percent, and Publicis 23 percent.

Jones said he did not have a fixed timetable for striking deals or set rules on the size of deals he would prioritize. He cited Latin America and Asia, notably India, as areas of interest, adding that Havas may reinforce businesses in which it is already strong such as public relations and health care.

($1=.6817 Euro)

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by James Regan)

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