CHICAGO, March 26—True North, parent of advertising agencies Bozell and Foote Cone & Beldding and of top 10 public relations firm BSMG Worldwide, has agreed to sell to Interpublic Group of Companies in a stock-for-stock pooling of interests transaction that values the Chicago-based holding company at $2.1 billion. But the deal immediately drew fire from some True North shareholders, including French advertising giant Publicis, which owns 9 percent of TN stock.

Publicis chief executive Maurice Levy was reacting to reports that another French ad agency, Havas (parent of Magnet Communications, Middleberg, and Abernathy MacGregor in the U.S.) had offered about $45 a share for True North, considerably more than the Interpublic offer, which was worth about $40.51 a share at the time it was made.

TN chief executive David Bell declined to comment on alternative offers, saying only that, “We have made this decision because we believe it’s the right decision for our clients and our shareholders, and that’s all we’ll comment on regarding any other proposals.”

Interpublic was regarded as the most logical long-term partner for True North, from both the financial and cultural perspective. In part because it too is based in the U.S., Interpublic is expected to reap significant cost savings—as much as $25 million a year—from the merger, and should be able to integrate the new businesses more smoothly. IPG says it expects the deal to add to earnings immediately.

According to IPG chairman and CEO John Dooner, “Interpublic and True North create an industry-leading combination of advertising and marketing services capabilities. By joining our companies, we have advanced our ability to address client-led trends towards globalization and integrated marketing communications.”

Publicis made its own aborted attempt to buy True North in 1997, offering just $28 a share at a time when the shares were trading at $26. There has been no love lost between the managements of the two companies since that time.

If the deal is approved, it will create the world’s largest diversified advertising and marketing communications firm, with combined revenues of about $7.2 billion. WPP Group, with its acquisition late last year of Young & Rubicam, had $6.6 billion in revenue last year, and New York-based Omnicom Group had $6.15 billion.

The merger would also solidigy IPG’s position as one the world’s largest owners of public relations interests, with its three largest brands—Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Golin/Harris International, and BSMG Worldwide—boasting combined fees in excess of $600 million, close behind WPP Group and Omnicom.

            The deal also gave rise to immediate speculation that IPG would attempt to combine BSMG and Golin/Harris into a second PR megabrand, alongside Weber Shandwick. Executives at IPG, Golin and BSMG said there had been no discussions about such a deal. According to Larry Weber, head of Weber Shandwick Worldwide and of IPG’s Allied Communications Group, “I’m just happy to have another great PR brand in the Interpublic family. There haven’t been any discussions about any future changes.”