EDITORIAL: Saatchis' return to form is good news

It's been a long catharsis on which many painful truths have had to be confronted and confounded. But Saatchi & Saatchi is at last offering tangible evidence of having exorcised its old demons. The Grand Prix and a sackful of other awards at Cannes leading to the Festival's Agency of the Year accolade bear testament to the feeling that Charlotte Street is rediscovering its creative edginess.

Even more important, the agency has proved itself capable of holding its

own in the most savage of economic downturns by becoming the top ranking UK agency group by income, according to the latest IPA table.

It's all a welcome contrast to the angst-ridden days of the early

90s.

Charles and Maurice Saatchi had departed in the most public bust-up in

advertising history, taking the most charismatic senior managers with

them. The agency seemed in danger of becoming an anonymous middle-ranker turning out competent but not outstanding work. Publicly, the place dubbed "oldco by defectors at the brothers' "agency-in-exile"

maintained the facade of preserving a culture which had been irreparably damaged. Privately, resentment and bitterness was devouring it.

Much credit, therefore, to James Hall, the incoming chief executive, who has grasped nettles that his predecessors either wouldn't or couldn't.

Hall has had to make some tough calls. Last summer's jobs cull,

representing 10 per cent of the workforce, was all the more difficult

for being long overdue. Moreover, he seems to have recognised the

limitations of a layer of management hurriedly promoted at a time of

crisis but neither natural leaders nor necessarily right for the long

haul back to health.

In laying the foundations for a renaissance, Hall

has undoubtedly been helped by the sale of Saatchis to Publicis. Instead

of insecurity and uncertainty that inevitably haunts an agency network

deemed to be "in play", the group is now firmly harnessed to the global

ambitions of its French parent.

The Antipodean alliance of Hall and his executive creative director,

Dave Droga, has echoes of earlier times when Aussie imports such as Bill Muirhead epitomised the Saatchis "can do ethos.

Whisper it, but Saatchis seems to have discovered some of its old

chutzpah. As Saatchis of old built its reputation outside the advertising

establishment and displayed a healthy contempt for playing it by the

rules, so today's agency is beginning to display similar traits.

And a good thing too. A UK adscene in which the name Saatchi & Saatchi

isn't an influential force just wouldn't be the same.

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