Arnold’s acquired

Snyder buys Boston ad agency in $120 mil deal

Arnold Communications, New England’s largest advertising agency, was acquired Thursday by Snyder Communications of Bethesda, Md., in a pooling-of-interests transaction valued at $120 million.

Arnold is the Boston-based agency behind those VW Beetle commercials currently plucking boomers’ heartstrings, while Snyder bills itself as a “leading provider of fully integrated outsourced marketing solutions.” The plan, according to Daniel M. Snyder, chairman, CEO and president of the acquiring company, is for Arnold to serve as “the creative resource for the organization.”

Cited among Snyder’s 1997 accomplishments were contracts for providing marketing services to GTE; sales services to major pharmaceuticals; and global database services to Fortune 500 companies. The company’s roots lie in wallboards, how-ever, when, in 1988, the media team of Mortimer B. Zuckerman and Fred Drasner funded a startup called Collegiate Marketing and Communications Inc. to mount information on walls.

The company changed its name to Snyder Communications a year later and went public in 1996, when founder Snyder was still young enough to have been the youngest CEO to list on a major exchange.

The acquisition pace since has brought comparisons to WPP Group, the London-based holding company headed by Martin Sorrell that contains ad agencies J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather. It, too, started out by providing so-called below-the-line services like point-of-purchase displays before embarking on a buying binge on Madison Avenue.

Snyder rejected comparisons to WPP out of hand but, when pressed, could only say: “We’re much further below the line.” But he did promise to fund Arnold’s future growth, both here and in Europe, by acquisition.

For Arnold chief Ed Eskandarian, one of advertising’s shrewdest dealmakers, that appears to have been the motivation to spurn offers from all the other usual suspects and to pick, as one longtime Arnold observer put it, “something even below my radar.”

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