INTEGRATED: INTEGRATED ISSUES; Clients are top in M&C Saatchi’s new marketing community

Robert Dwek explains The Village, which appears to offer the best of all worlds

Robert Dwek explains The Village, which appears to offer the best of all

worlds



The highest form of capitalism is communism, Lenin said. Are the Saatchi

brothers, regulars on the Sunday Times Rich List, budding commies? Did

their leap over the Berlin Wall result in more than a bit of free

advertising? Or is there a less ideological reason for their decision to

establish something called ‘The Village’?



The Village is a group of about ten marketing services agencies, ranging

from design (Smith and Milton) and PR (Lowe Bell) to contract

publishing, market forecasting and Internet products, though some of its

inhabitants wish to remain anonymous.



What is unusual about this collection of companies is that they are not

financially linked. They are entirely independent in this respect. Yet

when it comes to pitching for new business, they are all able to use the

illusion of a single through-the-line agency network. Thus, clients from

each agency have been persuaded to use other agencies within The

Village.



M&C Saatchi is the creator of this mutual appreciation society. The

agency, born in such dramatic circumstances, was forced to think

laterally. Obviously, it would have been unfeasible to splash out on a

wholly owned set of below-the-line subsidiaries, as had been the case at

Saatchi and Saatchi.



M&C Saatchi’s managing director, Nick Hurrell, says: ‘We’ve had no end

of companies offering their services in terms of acquisitions. But

ownership is not something we are into at present. We’re too busy

concentrating on expanding our core ad business.’



And anyway, he adds, his experience at Saatchis was that having

subsidiaries quite often meant little when it came to pitches. ‘Clients

aren’t that interested whether you own the agency or not, they just want

to know that you can work together.’



As The Village elder, M&C Saatchi sets the tone and acts as brand

guardian. ‘The Village allows us to retain strategic control,’ Hurrell

says, although speaking to others in this collective, it seems the

agency that introduces the client has the upper hand when it comes to

strategic say-so.



The results of this four-month-old experiment are, not surprisingly,

inconclusive. But companies that appear to like the set-up include the

jeweller, Asprey, the gift store, Mappin and Webb, and the health

insurance giant, PPP. They are each using two or more of the agencies in

The Village.



Mike Stevenson, PPP’s direct marketing customer loyalty manager, says he

recently appointed the direct marketing agency, Craik Jones, because it

was part of The Village, and PPP was already using M&C Saatchi above the

line. ‘The fact that M&C Saatchi and Craik Jones got together

voluntarily, because they share similar philosophies, is impressive,’ he

says.



‘There’s nothing worse than having in-fighting between above- and below-

the-line agencies, which goes on even when they’re part of the same

group.’



Robin Mitchell, the client services director at Craik Jones, agrees:

‘The ability to be able to work together is critical.’ He also argues

that ‘ownership [of agencies] takes away from objectivity. When I worked

at a big agency group, if someone asked me to recommend another agency,

I would always suggest one that was part of the same group, whether it

was the right agency for the job or not.’ He also believes that the

egalitarian nature of The Village helps attract the best agencies.



Karen Earl, whose eponymous sports sponsorship agency is part of The

Village, says she has been approached ‘many times’ over the past 15

years by agencies wanting to buy her out. ‘This is the only idea I felt

happy with. We have no interest in becoming financially linked with

another company.’



As for M&C Saatchi, it may not be quite as socialist as its brave new

Village credentials might suggest. Although he claims The Village is not

a dress-rehearsal for the real, wholly owned thing, Hurrell is careful

to leave his options open: ‘We’ll have to consider that at some point in

the future. But even if we did own other agencies, we’d still take a

more eclectic approach than our competitors.’



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