Opinion: Perspective - More logic to Saatchis girl band than meets the eye

Agency chiefs like nothing more than a name check in the national newspapers. It's the bane of most agency PR people's lives, however, because few produce the kind of output that national editors like to write about.

But Saatchi & Saatchi seems to have hit on a magic PR formula. The agency's chief executive, Lee Daley, wants to keep the Saatchi & Saatchi brand firmly in the vernacular. As a result, barely a week passes without some reference to one or another of the new initiatives the agency has undertaken, whether it be free bacon sandwiches for commuters, a wedding ceremony officiated by Elvis, or the formation of a girl band.

The latter initiative earned itself nearly half a page in The Sunday Times at the weekend. It's actually a project being put together by Gum, Saatchis' content arm launched last autumn. Gum has auditioned, trained and groomed four young women who, for a fee, will promote brands with their music.

An interested brand can name the band, ask them to include it in their lyrics or even wear its clothes or eat its food. There's a painful portion in The Sunday Times' article where the agency can't name clients involved in the project but says "car-makers", "a drinks company" and a "consumer goods firm" are "interested".

Whether or not this interest is converted to a sale is where the PR ends and the real business begins. The fact that none of the girls have quit their day jobs is somewhat telling. The problem with this initiative is that the four girls aren't famous. No doubt Saatchis will claim that this is an advantage. Bearing in mind that one of the girls is called Chanel and one's called Mercedes, the early signs are that the band members might be more amenable to selling products than their more famous peers.

So the idea is that the girls become famous in the process of building fame for the brand that is backing them. But why risk backing four unknowns when you can pay to back a band with an existing following? McDonald's plumping for Justin Timberlake, for instance, saw the mnemonic from "I'm lovin' it" played in breaks in his concerts, accompanied by McDonald's logos appearing on screens around the stadium. Concert attendees were effectively singing along to a McDonald's ad. If the world's most popular artists are willing to lend their music to brand promotion, there seems little space in the market for the likes of the Saatchis four.

Nevertheless, the initiative deserves credit. Saatchis is one of the only agencies in town that is putting its money where its mouth is. With Gum, Industry@Saatchis and Friends of Jonny, it really is looking at determining new revenue streams. Putting to one side the fact that this seems to have come at the expense of its core business, agencies need to take risks and look beyond their television output to secure a place in the changing advertising market. If ad agencies don't take the lead in new communications channels, specialists will.

Rumour has it that no fewer than 25 agencies were in the running for five's ad account, so congratulations to VCCP for trumping them all. It seems agencies were falling over themselves to be included on the shortlist, such is the desire for a client list that incorporates a media owner.

However, it is also a figure that highlights the competitive nature of the London advertising business. The AAR oversaw the pitch, but it wasn't a question of having to seek high and low to determine which agencies had the right credentials to handle the account. The fact is they were spoilt for choice. London is full of advertising agencies that can handle most briefs to the highest standards. Anyone thinking about launching a start-up at the moment should take this into consideration before resigning from their current job.

Claire Beale is on maternity leave

francesca.newland@haynet.com.

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