New face of M&C Saatchi

Don't be fooled by the casual exterior - Tom Bazeley is winning over the sceptics. By Maisie McCabe.

Bazeley: ‘It’s not about losing any risk, it’s just about becoming smarter as to when we deploy it’
Bazeley: ‘It’s not about losing any risk, it’s just about becoming smarter as to when we deploy it’

Tom Bazeley may have ­entered the advertising agency mainstream with his ­appointment as the chief executive of M&C Saatchi but, today, he is still sporting the slightly crumpled laidback look of his ­previous ­incarnation as a ­digital entrepreneur.

While Bazeley had been all set to lead digital across the combined entity following the acquisition of Lean Mean Fighting Machine by M&C Saatchi, Camilla Harrisson’s resignation four weeks ago changed all that.

Bazeley was driving to see Land Rover, a LMFM client that also works with M&C Saatchi Group, when he took a call from Lisa Thomas, the group chief executive. She was calling to ask if he would like to be Harrisson’s replacement. "I was driving past some motorway services," Bazeley explains. "So I very quickly ­indicated left and pulled off the road, then sat in the car park and said: ‘Right, can you run that past me again?’"

After quick chats with his wife and the three LMFM co-founders, Bazeley accepted. And the pace of change has continued from there. A week later, he found himself in a starched white shirt at a Wacl dinner and, a few days after that, his ­appointment was made ­official. Last week, he and the 40-strong LMFM staff moved into Golden Square in a bid to revive the biggest ­surname in UK advertising.

M&C Saatchi has had a ­turbulent year-and-a-half. ­Carrie Hindmarsh, Harrisson’s predecessor, left in ­August 2013 amid chatter about her deteriorating relationship with Thomas. Then Dixons Retail, the owner of PC World, a founding client, reviewed. A few months after Harrisson was promoted, ­Direct Line called an ad pitch too. Despite ­efforts to ­retain them, both brands decided to move on (to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi respectively).

Thomas is aware that new business is an area that needs to be improved on. "There is no doubt we need to win business and continue to improve the creative product," she says. "But you can’t do that single-handedly." Luckily, she says the existing M&C Saatchi team has bought into Bazeley, who has charmed even the more sceptical of his new colleagues in a matter of months.

"Tom has a calm and relaxed demeanour," Thomas says. "But he retains everything. He has a very sharp brain. People have naturally gravitated towards him as a leader."

Although Bazeley accepts that he needs to grow M&C Saatchi "financially and commercially", he says his role is not ­simply to "chase new-business margin". Instead, he will ­prioritise "new creative opportunities" – something he feels more than qualified to do, ­despite the disparity in size between the agencies. LMFM was, after all, the first UK agency to win Interactive Agency of the Year at Cannes back in 2008. To this end, ­Bazeley will be based on the first floor with the agency’s creatives, rather than the third floor, where Harrisson’s office was and Thomas is based.

"So much of running an agency is about creating the right environment to do good and interesting work," Bazeley says. "When you have that ­environment, coming up with great ideas feels like the ­easiest thing in the world. Although LMFM wasn’t the biggest agency in the world, we definitely had that environment. In that sense, I think it is what this place needs, so I do feel qualified to do this job."

During the past five months, the two agencies have worked with the strategy consultant Ben & Andrew on integrating their cultures. Bazeley says they found that the culture of LMFM was "very familiar" to people at M&C Saatchi, because the reputation of the Saatchi brand was built "on the back of taking creative risks".

However, Bazeley accepts LMFM might need to "moderate some of the deliberately unconventional things" with a more considered approach. "But that can only be a good thing. It’s not about losing any of the risk, it’s just about ­becoming smarter as to when we deploy it," he adds.

After a very public experience of the downsides of risk-taking with Dr Pepper a few years ago, Bazeley is qualified to know where to draw that line. And he has the support of the hallowed seventh floor, where the senior executives and long-time M&C Saatchi lieutenants are based. "Tom is ­interested only in work and doing things that make an ­impact," David Kershaw, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi plc, says. "He is very Saatchi and very welcome."

Bazeley may not have all the attributes of your typical polished and statesman-like ad agency chief executive (yet) but, in a business that should lionise risk-taking and creativity, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is also a lot of goodwill for him. When the LMFM sale was announced in May, some worried that the shop might lose its fighting spirit. Now Bazeley is on the front line, let’s hope he can charm the rest of M&C Saatchi into taking up arms alongside him.

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