EDITORIAL: All eyes on Hall as he swings the axe

The first question posed by the announcement of swingeing job cuts

at Saatchi & Saatchi is why it took so little time for James Hall, who

has barely had time to warm the chief executive's chair since arriving

from New Zealand, to realise what should have been obvious to the

agency's senior management for months.



Just weeks into the job, Hall has grasped the nettle that others shied

away from, cutting some 50 jobs to produce what he hopes will be a

leaner and fitter agency more in keeping with the times.



To his credit, Hall has acted swiftly and decisively. The biggest pity

is that Saatchis is now seen to be paying the price of its previous

procrastination and allowing the glow of old glories to blind it to new

realities.



Extra assignments from Procter & Gamble and the Sony win can no longer

disguise what has been a bleak new-business record and what has become

an overwhelming need for remedial action.



The shame is that it has been taken not by those who considered

themselves the guardians of the Charlotte Street culture but by somebody

who has previously only witnessed it from the other side of the

world.



As a result, Hall will be seen by some as a bulldozer driver who, in his

determination to sweep away the past, has knocked down some load-bearing

walls.



The "mini agency" structure may have had its shortcomings, but these

smaller units were important entry points for clients fearful that they

might be swallowed up and forgotten by an impersonal Saatchis

machine.



And there are bound to be criticisms that Hall has taken aim at the

wrong targets, hitting middle management the hardest in pursuit of a

"flatter" structure while leaving unscathed those who presided over the

agency's current predicament.



It's not Hall's fault that he has had to do the dirty work those before

him were either reluctant to carry out or lacked the power to do so.



But since he now has that unenviable task, he needs to show

assertiveness and sensitivity in completing the job. Not only must he

run the agency "barons" on a tight lead but tackle what could be a

serious staff morale problem.



That won't have been helped by the huge payouts to top managers on

completion of the takeover by Publicis or the sight of redundancy

victims leaving through a lavish and expensively refurbished reception

area.



Above all, Saatchis must prove that what it has done really is in the

best interests of its clients and not just a cynical exercise in

cost-cutting.



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