NetCreations, Parent Acquire Stake in Database Marketing Firm

Italy-based direct marketer and advertising firm SEAT Pagine Gialle is making a second North American acquisition, purchasing a 40 percent stake and setting the stage for possible future ownership of database marketer ICOM Information & Communications.

Privately-held, Toronto-based ICOM provides tools for database marketing programs, and chiefly serves consumer packaged goods firms. Much of the company’s services are founded on its collection of annual survey data from more than 50 million North American households, and its opt-in database of 18 million U.S. and 2.5 million Canadian households. The firm has performed work for Procter & Gamble, Unilever, AT&T, and General Motors.

Now, the expertise wielded by ICOM — considered by many to be one of North America’s leaders in database marketing and research for CPG firms — will become associated with 70-year-old SPG, one of Europe’s largest yellow pages publishers and recently, a player in the regional custom publishing; telecom and Internet access; Web portal; and e-mail marketing industries.

In February, the company acquired New York e-mail marketer NetCreations, popularly considered the leader in that space at the time. (Alley ad giant DoubleClick had earlier attempted a stock-based acquisition of NetCreations, but lost out to an all-cash bid from SPG.) ICOM will be attached to SPG through NetCreations, the company said. Terms were not disclosed.

“Our investment gives us access to [ICOM’s] know-how and complements our group’s online North American presence, with an offline product offering and a team of experienced and talented direct marketers,” said Marc Henon, who is chairman of Consodata, SPG’s flagship online and database marketer in Europe. “It also will allow ICOM to use our network of global Information Marketing expertise.”

“This investment is part of a long-term business strategy to form a strong global offline and online information marketing network,” Henon added.

Under the terms of the purchase, SPG will gain two seats on ICOM’s board of directors. ICOM’s founding partners and co-owners — Alan Levine, Harvey Beck and Doug McCormick — will continue to hold the majority share of ICOM’s stock, and its three remaining seats.

Levine, meanwhile, will continue as chief executive of the firm, with co-CEO Beck stepping down due to what the company said was a year-old decision to spend more time with family. By spring of next year, McCormick is also to step down from his position as partner and give up his board seat. SPG holds two purchase options good through 2004 that it said would eventually give it ownership of the firm.

“Over the next three years, we expect that we will all benefit from the fact that our businesses are synergistic,” Henon said. “We believe that our group, ICOM, and our respective customers will have a lot to gain from this alliance, through which we can now offer a complete offline and online product offering to our respective customers in North America and in Europe.”

Added Levine, “It’s an opportunity for ICOM to share its success formula, in particular with Consodata and NetCreations.”

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