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Mr. Softy still wants to be in the advertising business. It just doesn't want to be in the advertising agency business.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) acquired Razorfish, the creative agency formerly known as "Avenue A | Razorfish," and which was once a part of aQuantive, for $6.6 billion in 2007. Now the division is up for sale, The Financial Times newspaper reports.
Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) is seeking a buyer on Microsoft's behalf, and ad agency conglomerate Publicis is pondering a bid, the FT reports. One analyst quoted by the paper valued Razorfish at between $600 and $700 million.
Whether the valuation makes sense isn't perfectly clear; Microsoft lumps its portal and advertising business together in filings with the SEC. But if Publicis is willing to bid as much as $700 million, Razorfish's client roster may explain why. AT&T (NYSE: T ) , Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , and Coca-Cola are among those who use its digital marketing services.
A sale would make sense for two reasons. First, Razorfish grants Microsoft no obvious competitive advantage over Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) in the ongoing war of ad networks. Creative is too different a beast.
And second, because Razorfish is so different from the rest of the company, it's most likely to thrive in a more wide-open culture than Mr. Softy can provide. They may not harbor the gin-and-whisky stained workforce you'd see on Mad Men, but ad firms such as Interpublic and Omnicom (NYSE: OMC ) nonetheless have little in common with the snorting Redmond Rhino.
Still, give Microsoft credit: The logo and digital campaign for Microsoft's Bing search engine have proven to be very effective. Razorfish handled both.
But now Mr. Softy is apparently done fishing, and ready to cut bait. Good. Reel in the $700 million, Microsoft. There are better ways to use that money.
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