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Aegis says strong US leads patchy advertising recovery

LONDON - Aegis, the media buying and research group, said it was seeing the 'patchy' advertising recovery continue with the US, buoyed by a strong upfront season, showing a stronger comeback than 'variable' Europe.

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In the first four months of 2003, Aegis said advertising and research spending activity in Europe, which showed weak signs of recovery in some markets in late 2002 and the early part of 2003, remained variable with improvements in some markets offset by weakness in others.

Lord Sharman, the Aegis Group chairman, said: "Overall, trading for the group is in line with the board's expectations. The first four months of trading saw a continuation of the patchy but gradual recovery that we experienced in the latter part of 2002."

Earlier this month, Aegis, which owns the media planning and buying group Carat, came under fire from shareholders after revelations that the group was paying a £70,000-a-year pension to the wife of former chairman Frank Law, even though he is still alive.

Aegis agreed in 1999 to pay Law's wife £100,000 annually if he died before her. However, its 2002 annual report says that she was paid £70,000, despite reports that Law is alive. He served on the board of Aegis for 12 years.

Speaking at the group's AGM, Lord Sharman told shareholders that Aegis continued to see a recovery in the advertising market in North America.

"In particular, the stronger upfront television market and the end of the Iraq war has seen a firming of client spending plans. Our market research business also showed modest improvement as marketers increased their levels of discretionary spend," he said.

Asia Pacific, he said, remains buoyant, with strong advances in media and market research revenues in the first four months.

"However, SARS is now having an effect on [market research unit] Synovate's sales in the second quarter. The impact of SARS on media spend in Asia-Pacific is somewhat less but it has resulted in the postponement of some pitch activity," Lord Sharman said.

Aegis also said that Lord Hannay, 67, was stepping down from its board as a non-executive director. Lord Hannay, who has also served on the Chime board, was formerly the UK permanent representative to the United Nations and UK permanent representative to the European Community.

Aegis has appointed two new non-executive directors in Leslie Van de Walle and Daniel Farrar. Van de Walle, 47, is president of Shell Europe Oil Products. Farrar, 43, is president and CEO of GE Capital Fleet Services Europe.

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