Moray MacLennan: how M&C Saatchi International is building a new kind of marcoms empire

Unknown-5Moray MacLennan is CEO of M&C Saatchi Worldwide, the international arm of the UK agency formed in 1996 when Charles (no longer a partner) and Maurice Saatchi were defenestrated from Saatchi & Saatchi, then the biggest agency in the world, in a coup led by Chicago fund manager David Herro. M&C Saatchi, now quoted on the London Stock Exchange, is one of the fastest-growing international networks with 26 offices and revenues of over £170m. Here MacLennan discusses the agency’s philosophy, how it has grown and its plans for the future.

1/ M&C Saatchi’s creative philosophy is ‘Brutal Simplicity of Thought’ as expressed in Maurice Saatchi’s book. Is this more than a calling card? How do you put it into effect around the world?

MM: I think it is much more than a calling card because it’s what we’ve been based on since we set up the agency after the Great Schism of 1996. It was Maurice’s and Jeremy Sinclair’s (creative partner) expression of what we believed and I think we’ve stuck to it. In essence we’re saying, as we always have done, that in a complex and changing world our job is to provide clients with simple solutions that work. I think that’s a valid approach wherever you are.

2/ M&C has grown around the world by establishing partnerships with people in those countries. This has clearly proved effective but will it enable you to challenge the global behemoths – WPP and Omnicom/Publicis for the really big global accounts?

MM: Well we certainly intend to challenge the behemoths and I think we’re starting to. The key is attracting the talent to produce the ideas that can make a difference to clients and then, of course, have the infrastructure to deliver them around the world. Our key people people have shares in the agency, which is a great motivation for them, but we control a majority of 51 per cent and upwards in each office.

3/ What are your biggest global accounts and how many territories do you handle them in?

MM: BASF, Etihad, Ballantine’s and Havana Club. We also have Coca-Cola, Nestle and Procter & Gamble in some markets. It’s true that most of our business throughout the network is local, but that’s no bad thing. It shows that we can compete on our own merits in local markets rather than shunting business out from the middle, as many networks do.

We think we’re almost there with the network but there some places we still need to be; Canada, Eastern Europe and Indonesia, to name three.

4/ Some of M&C’s founders are now reaching the veteran stage. Do you have a succession plan in place?

MM: Yes we do but I have to say nobody is going anywhere – or they haven’t told me that they’re planning to.

5/ The US has always proved a difficult place for British-based agencies, not least Charles and Maurice’s Saatchi & Saatchi which became unstuck with its Ted Bates deal. M&C is still small in the US. How do you plan to grow in what is still the world’s biggest ad market?

MM: When we started in London in 1996 we won the British Airways account in our first year and so we had to start six offices around the world very quickly, including New York. So our first effort there was really a resource to account handle BA. That team was never planned as competition for New York agencies.

But it’s true, New York in particular has proved hard for British agencies, although Mother seems to be doing OK.

Jeff Brooks (formerly CEO and chief digital officer of Euro RSCG) is building a great team of mostly native New Yorkers. You can’t import people from other countries or even parts of the US to succeed there, they’ve got to really know the New York market. But it’s a work in progress and we’re already doing well in digital and mobile.

6/ So far, M&C has steered away from major acquisitions. Will this always be the case? Do you hanker after, one day, buying back Saatchi & Saatchi from Publicis Groupe? Might they be inclined to sell after the merger with Omnicom?

MM: Well I don’t know whether they’d sell or not, you’d have to ask them. Although they’ll certainly have a lot of agency networks so you never know. Maybe when Maurice Levy retires? Let’s just say we’re waiting in the wings.

As to acquisitions generally, we haven’t made any big ones although that’s not to say we never would. But our partnership model has worked well so far and proved remarkably stable, much more so than buying an agency and then everybody clearing off after three years or so.

7/ Who or what have been the biggest influences on your career?

MM: It has to be the Saatchi culture because I’ve never worked anywhere else. I joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985 and that’s been it.

In terms of individuals, Maurice obviously plus the other partners here. Charles as well, though, because I worked on the only three accounts – British Airways, Silk Cut and The Conservative Party – that he got involved in. Which was an education at times.

 

 

 

 

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