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Has anyone in London got (any of) the Saatchi brothers’ pizazz?

It’s a bit much, after all, when advertising agencies escape from the ghetto of trade media for the first time in years only when two brothers who are well into their sixties (one of whom has retired from advertising if not art collecting) decide to hold a party.

Actually it’s Saatchi & Saatchi’s party, but never mind.

By all accounts everyone from Barack Obama to Madonna may attend the joint Saatchi & Saatchi/M&C Saatchi 40th birthday lovefest on Thursday (actually that’s a joke but you probably will get David Cameron and Guy Ritchie) to celebrate an agency whose great days probably preceded their birth.

But the pulling power comes from Charles (67) and Maurice Saatchi (64) although other former Saatchi veterans such as Tim (now Lord) Bell and Sir Martin Sorrell will obviously help. Saatchi & Saatchi also has its own stars of course, most notably worldwide boss Kevin Roberts of ‘lovemarks’ fame (Charles Saatchi would probably have shot anyone who came up with a concept like that), current London boss Robert Senior and Maurice Levy, if he turns up, the boss of current Saatchi owner Publicis.

Does anyone else in London have even a fraction of the pizazz still possessed by the brothers though?

The short answer is no, the person who makes most news in London is Sir Martin Sorrell, now boss of the giant WPP of course, but even Sorrell wouldn’t claim to be a Saatchi replica.

Of the younger generation possibly only Johnny Hornby of Clenmow Hornby Inge, now 49 per cent owned by WPP, has anything like the charisma that used to be commonplace in London advertising. And even Hornby is well into his forties. The same might be said of Beattie McGuinness Bungay founder Trevor Beattie although Trev is not as omnipresently visible as once he was now that he has his own business to run (and a buyer to find, one suspects).

And there’s the rub. The path to fame and fortune in the ad world is no longer building up your own agency to be a world-beater in financial or even creative terms. It’s to do a bit of that and then sell some or all of it to one of the big marcoms groups, WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic (if your luck’s out) or Havas.

So being a larger-than-life risk taker might not play too well with your eventual owner. And when you finally do the deal the first thing on your mind is to meet your monthly financial reporting requirements not going around resigning misanthropic clients or throwing Ferraris at star creatives.

Of course the margins enjoyed by the likes of the Saatchis and others like Collett Dickenson Pearce or Lowe Howard-Spink in its glory days are just not available any more. Then clients had to advertise on TV (or thought they did) and were, by and large, prepared to pay the equivalent of 15 per cent of their media budgets in commission for the privilege.

Ironically it was the Saatchi brothers who played the biggest role in bringing this to an end. The 1970s saw the creation of the first media independents in the UK but they were still quite small in relation to the big full-service agencies.

But the brothers decided to lump the media buyers from all their agencies together in a former warehouse in Paddington to create Zenith Media, the first separate big agency media operation. And, never ones to under-promise, guaranteed to save clients from anywhere loads of media money.

End result? Margins were minced.

So the money’s got a lot to do with it as has the growth of the internet and associated media fragmentation. Lots of big clients don’t go near telly advertising these days.

But, as the fuss about the Saatchi party and the guest list indicate, A-listers from business, politics and entertainment do actually like their admen to be larger-than-life.

Surely there’s an opportunity there for some people with just a bit of Saatchi flair and ambition?

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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.
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