CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - M&C Saatchi creative revamp will generate fear and respect

Sinclair's new post shows cracks in the M&C creative hierarchy, John Tylee says.

By turning its attention to Jeremy Sinclair in its hour of need, M&C Saatchi has declared its intention to look to its past in order to secure its creative future. And in doing so will cause much puzzlement.

It's not that anybody doubts Sinclair's creative pedigree. Quite the contrary. The man taking day-to-day charge of the creative department has helped produce some of the most iconic Saatchi work over almost four decades from the "pregnant man" onwards.

The dismay at the news has been more to do with his age and background.

Now 57, Sinclair was taken on by the Saatchi brothers fresh from a copywriting course at Watford College in 1968 and has never worked for any agency that didn't have their name on the door.

Few have played a more significant role in shaping the Saatchi culture than Sinclair, once acknowledged as the most important figure in the former Saatchi group behind the brothers themselves.

The question is whether somebody so steeped in the Saatchi tradition can keep its creative product relevant to a new age. Sinclair has no doubts: "If there comes a time when this isn't a Saatchi agency, then I'll want to go home."

Moray MacLennan, the M&C Saatchi joint chief executive, says: "Jeremy is acknowledged as the best creative director in London. Creativity isn't about youth, it's about good ideas. It has nothing to do with how old you are."

The change of creative leadership comes as the agency strives to produce its first truly signature work and improve on last year's modest new-business performance. It failed to convert pitches for British Gas and the Royal Mail and the assignments that arrived, most notably the London 2012 Olympic bid and the Somerfield supermarket chain, are debatable long-term prospects.

Some believe that Sinclair's legendary industry status - and that of the agency's other founding partners - has weighed heavily on Matt Eastwood, the easy-going Aussie who is giving up the creative directorship after little more than a year to take over as the chairman and creative director of the New York office in April.

Eastwood has made little secret of his yearning to work in New York and that he regards his return as a completion of unfinished business. Those who know him, however, suggest the long shadows cast by the reputations surrounding him and creative department politics have fuelled his frustration and influenced his decision to go.

The agency's official line is that the change has been precipitated by a number of interconnected events - the need to take the New York office out of mothballs in order to resource a resurgent British Airways budget, Eastwood's wish to return to work in the US and a desire to capitalise on Sinclair's reawakened interest in the agency's creative product over the past six months.

"We started thinking about looking around the market for Matt's replacement before realising that the ideal candidate was already here," MacLennan says.

However, giving Sinclair the job rather than returning it to Simon Dicketts, the executive creative director and Eastwood's predecessor, raises questions about a muddled chain of command.

MacLennan makes light of the issue, pointing out that Dicketts and Sinclair have worked together for a quarter of a century and that there will be clear demarcation lines with Dicketts retaining his close links with the BA, NatWest and police recruitment accounts.

Sources within the agency suggest Eastwood might have had difficulty in making the leap from the agency's Melbourne office to the bigger London operation with a distinct way of working and that the compact New York set-up may be a more comfortable fit.

Sinclair acknowledges New York may be a more natural environment for Eastwood: "We wouldn't have sent Matt to New York if we didn't rate him. I have a tremendous amount of time for him."

Eastwood agrees that his early period in charge of the creative department was a rough ride after his decision to dismantle the group structure disempowered some influential figures. But he denies suggestions of senior creatives "ganging up" on him or that the agency's doyens have been anything but supportive.

But he's keen to get to New York: "I've such a personal affinity with the place that I feel more like a New Yorker than a Londoner."

He also hopes his presence in the US will provide the comfort factor for M&C Saatchi UK clients looking to move into the US market but nervous about whether the agency has sufficient resource to service their business.

The New York office is already doing some work for Royal Bank of Scotland on top of its core BA business.

With campaigns such as Transport for London and the most recent BA work, Eastwood feels the foundations have been laid for award-winning creative work.

Nevertheless, insiders feel there's still a way to go. "Jeremy will bring a healthy injection of fear into the creative department," one says. "That's not to say he'll rule by fear but his stature always commands aura and respect."

Eastwood's verdict: "It's been a while since Jeremy has run a creative department and he's bound to get a few shocks. But he knows what he's doing."

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