A view from Maisie McCabe

M&C Saatchi puts its loyalty scheme to the test

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in June last year, Maurice Saatchi told a story about a cold, wet winter night 20 years earlier.

In 1995, not long after being turfed out of Saatchi & Saatchi with his brother, he opened his front door to find Tim Duffy drenched and ready to pledge his allegiance.

Duffy, the UK chairman of M&C Saatchi since 2009, and Moray MacLennan, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi Worldwide, were rewarded for their loyalty with shares in the business back in 1995 – an honour not bestowed on M&C Saatchi London’s subsequent lieutenants.

The shop has had a tough time over the past two-and-a-half years. A quick recap… In mid-2013, the joint chief executive Carrie Hindmarsh left to spend more time with her family. She was replaced by Camilla Harrisson. Even her considerable new-business skills, which have since been demonstrated at Anomaly, were not enough to prevent Direct Line and Dixons – two of the agency’s biggest and most profitable accounts – walking out the door.

Harrisson’s successor, Tom Bazeley, has failed to get the agency firing as quickly as had been hoped. There have been sparks. Despite not having an executive creative director, the work has improved. New clients, meanwhile, include Cornetto and Public Health England.

M&C Saatchi rarely separates advertising out in its UK figures. As Lida and the mobile division often get a name check, I have often assumed that the ad agency is left out because the numbers are bad. Yet revenues apparently climbed by a not-too-shabby 5.2 per cent year on year in 2015. Still, with the shop entering 2016 without Transport for London and Virgin Holidays, something had to be done.

In the tail end of last year, Bazeley lured the Leo Burnett executive creative director, Justin Tindall, for the role of chief creative officer. Now we know one of the sweets he tempted him with was part-ownership of the agency. M&C Saatchi has built its network around the world by treating its new offices like start-ups, lending executives money to get skin in the game. But only now has it offered the same rewards to management in London.

Now, Bazeley, Tindall and Duffy have joined with the newly promoted Gabrielle Bell and Tom Firth to buy a combined 30 per cent stake in the ad agency. Rewarding and empowering staff is a clever way to combine the strengths of start-ups and networks. The quintet could end up owing the group a fair bit of cash if things go wrong, but also stand to make a lot if they work out. 

It is refreshing to see a plc empowering people on the ground in such a way. We eagerly await the results.