*Florence Inks Deal to Buy Back Direct Media

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The world's largest list management and brokerage company became an independent entity again Friday when Direct Media founder Dave Florence negotiated an agreement to buy the Greenwich, CT, company back from Acxiom Corp., according to a senior DMI executive who asked to remain anonymous.

A group of about 10-20 Direct Media employees will own 51 percent of the company in a deal that will be financed by Acxiom, the Conway, AR, database services provider that acquired Direct Media in 1996 for $25 million in stock. The new ownership group will not include Florence, who remains CEO. Other top executives will include Max Bartko, who was recently named group president of sales and marketing.

The exact terms of the acquisition were not immediately available, although sources said the buyout group would have the option to acquire the remaining 49 percent of Direct Media after seven years. A five-member executive board will include two Acxiom appointments.

The deal, which had been expected, ends months of turmoil surrounding the ownership status of Direct Media, which Acxiom decided to sell last year because Direct Media's revenues were not growing at the rate Acxiom demands of its subsidiary businesses. Insiders and other industry observers have said that a severe culture clash prevented the two companies from integrating smoothly, although Direct Media reportedly did become a more efficient operation under Acxiom's strict fiscal controls.

Last spring, American List Counsel, the Princeton, NJ-based list firm that had been the largest independent list management and brokerage house, was exploring the possibility of a merger with Direct Media, and other acquisition scenarios unfolded later in the year.

At one point, Ralph Drybrough and Mark Joyce, the two top executives in Direct Media's business-to-business list division, were planning a buyout of that portion of the company. Acxiom rejected their plan, Drybrough said, and both men have since left Direct Media.

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