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M&C Saatchi faces a battle to regain departed glories

One agency that won’t be appearing on anyone’s Agency of the Year shortlist is M&C Saatchi. In fact it’s been an annus horribilis for the agency which prides itself on its chutzpah, not to mention its ‘brutal simplicity of thought.’

The facts, alas, are brutally simple: this year it’s lost a number of accounts – most notably Dixons and Direct Line – and the misery has been compounded by parting ways with Transport for London (TFL), currently embarked on a statutory review with an unfeasibly long ‘shortlist’ of agencies. TFL safety campaigns of one sort or another suit M&C’s tabloid predilections.

M&C is the London ad agency within the M&C Saatchi quoted holding company – which keeps producing acceptable numbers – so not the whole story for David Kershaw and co. But the main ad agency tends to be the flagship in such outfits and the M&C agency’s performance must be a cause for concern. Ever since it started 20 years or so ago it’s been a strong performer in the creative agency billings table but this year, to date, it’s plummeted to 20th place – truly uncharted territory – with billings of just £90m.

In may 2014 M&C bought digital agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine for £6m or so and proceeded to instal the Lean Meaners, headed by CEO Tom Bazeley, as the M&C management – with consequent departures from senior and middle ranks. At the time it looked a strange decision and it doesn’t seem any more rational now. CEO Camilla Harrison, a new business whizz by all accounts, upped sticks in October that year to head Anomaly UK and creative director Elspeth Lynn exited in January this year to be succeeded by a gaggle of Lean Meaners.

It’s become almost a truism among London agencies that digital creatives find it hard to adjust to handling big, above the line accounts: still the life blood of the agency elite (although that didn’t stop many of them appointing such folk in the first place). Younger digital creatives just have no experience of handling big budget TV campaigns, one of the factors that has adam&eveDDB laughing all the way to the bank.

M&C has actually struggled creatively ever since ECD Graham Fink quit to become CCO of Ogilvy China back in 2011. There aren’t that many Finks around, alas, but that doesn’t mean they can be replaced with an entirely new model.

Is there a way back for M&C? The real power there is in the hands of founders Lord Saatchi, Kershaw, Bill Muirhead and Jeremy Sinclair, all well into the veteran stage but who’ve made plenty of money along the way. International boss Moray MacLennan may be the man to sort things out but he’s busy overseeing a global empire of 20 or so offices, mostly minority stakes. Which must be like herding cats at times.

The M&C gang have bounced back before, most notably when they all quit Saatchi & Saatchi. But 20th place and £90m in billings is a hard place to bounce back from. There aren’t that many accounts as big as Dixons and Direct Line to go for even if they can sort the agency.

Which is the task facing them this Christmas.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. I thought Maurice had invented the “Advertising Formula” that would be the “Holy Grail” of the ad biz. Not to mention having his hacks assemble that embarrassing “Brutal Simplicity of Thought.” Which took me ten minutes to read and one minute to chuck in the bin. Still, he’s got more “Rollers” than me… Wanker.

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