by: George Lazarus / from: CHICAGO TRIBUNE
WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell is still singing the real estate blues.

Whereas Sorrell a year ago at the PaineWebber media conference was more detailed about the excess space held by his agencies, the problem remains a matter of major concern, even though he was vague about it.

A year ago, Sorrell acknowledged that his major units, headed by ad agencies J. Walter Thompson Co. and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, plus public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, had more than 800,000 square feet of office space they couldn't use.

Sorrell's presentation revealed that excess space had been reduced by 21 percent in 1992 and another 20 percent this year. He didn't say much more, though he did note that it hasn't been an easy market in which to lease square footage.

WPP globally a year ago had total space estimated in the 5.5 million to 6 million-square-foot range; about 80 percent of the excess space was in this country.

Sorrell surprised JWT Chicago and Ogilvy Chicago by revealing a year ago that he hoped to move Ogilvy into excess space adjacent to JWT's offices. Sorrell said the idea is still under consideration, but when it might happen, if it happens, is not known.

The trouble is that JWT Chicago, with major new business garnered recently, needs an extra floor, which it will pick up next year in addition to its six floors at 900 N. Michigan.

JWT has a lease until 2006 at 900 N. Michigan (the Bloomingdale's building). Ogilvy's lease at 767 St. Clair St. expires in 1995.

Sorrell expressed concern over the performance of Hill and Knowlton, which lost money in 1992 and will have a deficit this year as well. Among Hill & Knowlton offices, "Chicago still concerns us," he said.

Earlier this week, Hill & Knowlton tapped Howard Paster, who had been President Clinton's chief lobbyist, as its new CEO, and Sorrell is hopeful that the move will steer the PR firm in a more positive direction.

Sorrell last week took some flak on Wall Street for selling 800,000 shares, or 38 percent, of his 2.1 million shares of WPP stock. Sorrell noted Tuesday that there was no press coverage when he made major WPP stock purchases from September 1992 to March 1993.

– Omnicom Group is "futzing around" with the possibility of buying the balance of London-based agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, of which it owns 26 percent, this column was told following Omnicom's presentation at the conference. But such a deal doesn't appear to be imminent, suggested Fred J. Meyer, Omnicom chief financial officer. During the presentation to analysts, CEO Bruce Crawford also said that Omnicon has the right to buy another 4 percent of Aegis Ltd., a London firm that includes the Carat media-buying service. As previously reported, Omnicom plunked down $22 million for 9 percent of Aegis. Omnicom is looking at this equity in Aegis as an investment and not a media-buying resource. In Europe, Omnicom's BBDO and DDB Needham units are part of The Media Partnership, which includes other agencies. Media buying by firms other than full-service ad agencies accounts for 60 percent of all media purchases in Europe. In the U.S., the figure might be around 15 percent, which could increase as clients seek more efficiencies. Omnicom is holding its quarterly dividend rate at 31 cents a share, and with additional profits likely, it would appear that the communications conglomerate will have funds available for expansion and/or acquisitions. Publicly held Omnicom, whose other properties include TBWA Advertising and a collection of firms under the Diversified Agency Services banner, is expecting 1993 revenues (commissions and fees) of $1.5 billion, an 8 percent-plus increase from 1992.

– Dallas-based Hicks, Muse & Co., G. Heileman Brewing's new parent, tapped Richard Gaccione as president-chief executive officer of the Rosemont-based brewer. Gaccione, recently a senior VP with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in New York, will report to William J. Turner, Heileman's new chairman, who maintains offices in Dallas and Boulder, Colo. Gaccione will succeed Thomas J. Rattigan, who, as previously announced, is leaving Heileman.

– General Motors Corp. is assigning the Interpublic Group of Cos. its estimated $500 million national TV-buying for its various units, an announcement expected Wednesday. Interpublic's McCann-Erickson and Lintas Campbell-Ewald, which work on various GM divisions, competed against other agencies of the automaker for the assignment.

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