Having been a long-term critic of the financial return gained by Aegis on its investment in a research operation, it would be churlish to question the merit of selling the Synovate business to Ipsos as now looks probable (always assuming shareholders agree and no other bidder emerges).
However, this week’s announcement of talks begs a bigger strategic question. If Synovate is sold, what should Aegis do with the cash?
Shareholders may scream: "Give it back to us!" But there is another option, and it’s probably less fanciful than it first appears.
Why not continue the trend that has been taking place almost imperceptibly in Aegis Media, namely broadening its offer beyond the core media business not just into digital but into all aspects of creative work in every medium?
With Glue, the group has been able to offer clients a broader range of marketing skills - including creative work - in the digital arena for some time, albeit Glue is still a modest sized operation.
The size aspect was partly remedied by the additional digital resources that came with the acquisition of the Australian based Mitchell Communications group last year.
But why stop there? The trend seems to be towards a multi-channelled marketing business and Aegis will never outplay the big global guns unless it chooses to compete on their turf.
It may sound very old-fashioned for a group like Aegis to invest in traditional creative resources, but the decades of media unbundling may now have passed.
Today the trend is to go back to basics, starting with the marketing idea and then executing it - using all the resources that are appropriate.
AKQA is a marriage of digital with traditional creative. Dare is the same.
It would not be a great leap of imagination to envisage Aegis buying a sizeable creative agency with at least some international presence.
Aegis denies having any ambition to invest in a traditional creative agency, but acknowledges that such agencies still employ many good creative brains that would be of value in a digital environment.
The alternative is to revert to a battle for media market share against the other global guns and/or give some cash back to shareholders.
Indeed the strategy may not be left to the Aegis board to decide if shareholder short-termism prompts a demand for cash, or if Vincent Bolloré has the stomach for a bid.
Either way, the eventual outcome will show whether Aegis chairman John Napier is seriously interested in the future of the business as well as in enhancing shareholder value.
No-one would doubt that Aegis Media, shorn of Synovate, would be a valuable asset to acquire. And Napier has worked harder than his predecessors to foster a more cordial personal relationship with Bolloré.
A merger with Havas would create a bigger global multi-disciplined empire with strong media and digital capabilities.
Sadly it would do little to enhance the lack-lustre creative reputation that has dogged Havas for some time.
It would cost Bolloré at least £1.5 billion to acquire the 70% shareholding in Aegis that he does not already own, assuming any sale proceeds from Synovate remain on its balance sheet. And a contested bid would cost even more.
Yesterday morning Havas had a market value of £1.35 billion. And that begs another question: would Aegis ever contemplate a friendly bid for Havas?
This play is likely to run and run.
Bob Willott, editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence
This article was first published on brandrepublic.com