AGENCY OF THE YEAR: M&C SAATCHI - M&C Saatchi has been much derided by its critics since its inception in 1995. Yet the agency has proved to be willing and able to tailor itself to clients’ needs

With the mass of prejudice that continues to surround M&C Saatchi, it’s easy to lose sight of the compelling reasons for making it Campaign’s agency of the year.

With the mass of prejudice that continues to surround M&C Saatchi,

it’s easy to lose sight of the compelling reasons for making it

Campaign’s agency of the year.



Memories of the agency’s birth amid the acrimony of the biggest bust-up

in UK advertising history are hard to erase. So is the lingering belief

that it owes its success to cronyism while displaying an unattractive

arrogance.



Yet if respect rather than affection is the most it can ever expect, M&C

Saatchi’s performance during 1999 has surely banished any remaining

suggestion that the agency is merely Maurice Saatchi’s instrument of

revenge.



An outstanding new-business record - which included the capture of Rover

cars, along with enormous chunks of work from Sainsbury’s and BT - puts

paid to that idea. What’s more, it has proved to be the agency’s trump

card in a year in which none of the leading contenders produced

consistently high levels of creative work to win the accolade on

creative output alone.



Indeed, leaving aside Whiskas, Foster’s lager and PJ O’Rourke’s acerbic

commercial about English eccentricity for British Airways, M&C Saatchi’s

output is not yet significantly better than the best work of TBWA GGT

Simons Palmer and WCRS, its two chief rivals for the title.



However, neither was able to show sufficient creative breadth to win the

race. As a result, the outcome of the 1999 contest has been determined

by achievements in other areas. It is in those that M&C Saatchi has put

clear water between itself and the rest to become, in its sixth year, a

solid fixture.



More importantly, M&C Saatchi has shown itself willing and able to

fashion itself to match the changing and extended needs of clients. A

majority-owned direct marketing operation, as well as an online

’one-stop shop’ combining advertising know-how with web design,

consultancy and distribution expertise, were both unveiled during the

year.



Above all, the agency proved it can contest and win important new

business on its own merits and not because of high-level contacts by the

founding partners in their previous existences.



The latest MMS rankings provide the most spectacular illustration of M&C

Saatchi’s progress. To go from a standing start in 1995 to the number

six spot - only three places behind Saatchi & Saatchi - is an

achievement unlikely ever to be matched. Moreover, the agency’s billings

rose by 48 per cent to pounds 227 million in the year to the end of

September 1999.



The agency’s three biggest wins of the year bear out what it is capable

of when it is at its most persistent. Its snatching of the Sainsbury’s

TV account from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO was the climax of a ’Trojan

horse’ strategy begun almost three years earlier.



And when Rover declared itself so underwhelmed by the agency’s creative

pitch that it declined to put the proposals into research, the Golden

Square lights burned late to get back in contention to capture the

creative assignment on the carmaker’s pounds 40 million UK account.



Of our other shortlisted shops, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer offered the best

reel with arresting TV spots backed by very strong print work.



Forty-three major awards reflect an agency very much in the

self-confident mould of its creative chief, Trevor Beattie. The work for

Sony PlayStation has performed particularly well, not only sustaining

its place at the top of the tree but belieing suggestions that it was

becoming old and predictable.



However, TBWA has still to show its all-round capabilities. The Nissan

and NatWest campaigns are impenetrable and, although little business was

lost, wins were mostly small scale and FMCG assignments remain

elusive.



An uneven creative product also denied WCRS the ultimate prize it has

been threatening to grab for the past two years. It would have been a

timely award for the agency, which celebrated its 20th birthday last

year with some quality additions to its client list. Sega picked it for

the pan-European launch of Dreamcast, while Rover assigned it the

creative task for the pounds 30 million international launches of its

vitally important 25 and 45 models. The pounds 8 million Anchor Butter

win topped a highly creditable year.



At the same time, WCRS continued to produce outstanding work on

cornerstone accounts such as BMW and Orange for which the orang-utan

’natural instincts’ campaign has proved equally adaptable above and

below the line.



This contrasts sharply with other disappointing work. Dreamcast is

confusing, Camelot looks in need of fresh impetus and Carling suffers

from the advertising equivalent of brewer’s droop. If the creative work

can be made to match its new-business operation, WCRS will be a force to

be reckoned with.



The revolutionary zeal of St Luke’s continues to appeal. The agency

topped last year’s new-business league by a mile with substantial wins

including IPC, BT’s youth account and Sky TV.



Meanwhile, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO showed astonishing resilience to

retain the bulk of BT against all odds while rebuilding what seemed to

be a fatally fractured relationship with Sainsbury’s. And the 78 per

cent billings hike recorded by HHCL & Partners suggests its impact is

undiminished.



For now, though, the limelight belongs to M&C Saatchi. It would be

churlish to claim it has not been earned.



Recent winners: BMP DDB (1998);



St Luke’s (1997); Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (1996, 1995); HHCL & Partners

(1994); Bartle Bogle Hegarty (1993).



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