The World: M&C Saatchi goes global the piecemeal way

Funds from the network's recent flotation are being channelled into a stronger global presence, Lucy Aitken reports.

Multinational clients should not be too surprised to receive a call from the expanding M&C Saatchi network soon. With funds from its recent float, the network is bolstering its presence in Asia and establishing itself in mainland Europe.

In Asia, it is partnering local agencies. It has just bought a 52 per cent stake in Spaulding, a 23-strong agency in Bangkok. Spaulding's client list includes Coca-Cola Thailand and Finansa Insurance.

Amornpimol Thanakitamnuay, the managing director of the newly christened M&C Saatchi Thailand, says: "M&C came to see us and it just clicked. We wouldn't want the agency to grow too fast or too big; we want to keep it at a size where we can provide quality creative.

"We'd like to be the most sought-after agency in Thailand."

Her ambition certainly resonates with that old Saatchi mantra: "Nothing is impossible."

After its London launch in 1995, M&C Saatchi opened a handful of overseas offices - none of which were in mainland Europe - to service British Airways.

Since then, it has built up its network in the East, particularly in Australia, where it has the A$70 million Woolworths account.

M&C Saatchi's first set of financials since it floated in July revealed where its strengths lie: Asia (£18.9 million) and Australia (£10.9 million) accounted for more than one-third of total revenues. Seeking to build on this progress, Kevin Ramsey, the president of M&C Saatchi in Asia and the former regional chief at J. Wal-ter Thompson, has been busy hunting out local partners.

Beijing is a priority and the network's founder, Maurice Saatchi, has emphasised the importance of China; M&C Saatchi held its most recent worldwide board meeting in the Shanghai office.

Jakarta is the likely base for an Indonesian office. A Korean hub will be based in Seoul, and M&C Saatchi is also investigating New Delhi. Along with M&C Saatchi Thailand, these offices will complement existing overseas shops in Auckland, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Melbourne, New York, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo and Wellington.

Yet despite this presence in Asia, some are sounding a note of caution on the subject of further expansion. Richard Pinder, the Leo Burnett president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and a former regional managing director for Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, remarks: "Asia doesn't tend to respond well to agency brands that are not well known. Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and JWT have been around the longest and that tends to drive clients' decision making."

He adds: "Asia is a volatile, exciting place. If Indonesia suddenly crashes or you find there's fraud in one of your offices, you have to be prepared."

M&C Saatchi is determined to participate in those pitches where significant slices of regional or multinational business are up for grabs. This would add to its strong portfolio of local clients, which includes Mandarin Oriental Hotels, the New Zealand Tourist Board, Stone Grill and Herringbone.

Tom Dery, M&C Saatchi's Asia-Pacific executive chairman, comments: "For the past nine years, we have had a chain of entrepreneurial people who manage ad-vertising with a common set of principles to serve local clients. So the opportunity to expand and include more offices gives us the chance to approach regional and multinational clients."

In Asia, M&C Saatchi already has a brand on which to build. In mainland Europe, however, it has to start from scratch. And the continent has to be cracked if M&C Saatchi wants to be in the running for heavyweight pan-European pitches. "Not being in mainland Europe has been a major hole and we've lost out on opportunities," partner Bill Muirhead says.

So M&C Saatchi is looking to open in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

These agencies are more likely to be start-ups than joint ventures. M&C Saatchi's joint chief executive Nick Hurrell has been clocking up the air miles and has made significant headway: a Paris office is likely to open in spring 2005.

Hurrell says he has interviewed 50 candidates for the positions of chief executive and creative director. A second European office will also open next year and two more will follow in 2006.

And once the pieces of this jigsaw have been pieced together - if not before - the M&C Saatchi new- business machine will be primed for action.

Aggressively seizing upon opportunities to get close to clients is part of M&C's DNA.