What Saatchis means to me

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 September 2010 12:00AM

As Saatchi & Saatchi celebrates its 40th birthday this month, John Tylee talks to some of the iconic agency's most illustrious alumni about their time there and what made the business so special.

- Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive, WPP

Saatchi & Saatchi (1977-1984), group finance director

"It's clearly nice to celebrate anniversaries, but this one is tinged with sadness - about what might have been or could have been.

"The Saatchi era - from around 1975 to 1990 - will always be difficult to equal and probably is unique.

"Campaign headlines every week, 'Saatchi grabs another £1 million account' (a lot in those days), led the American advertising establishment to believe that Charles and Maurice actually owned the magazine.

"In addition to the colossal creative and industry success (mainly UK-orientated), the fame was fuelled by the political campaigns for the Tories and the agency became a household word.

"However, success was always tinged with humour and fun. Charles posing as Simon Mellor, his assistant, to brief journalists off the record; total informality in operation and focus on getting things done; instant meetings and violent arguments; instant access and no boundaries on action and speed were all hallmarks of ambition that knew no boundaries (nothing is impossible - come to the brink). In fact, we created our own do-it-yourself, multinational from scratch with no experience.

"Hence the dismay when one analyst wrote the first 'sell' circular, basically because Saatchis' claimed growth rate would surpass the UK's GNP in a few years because of the miracle of compound arithmetic.

"So why the sadness? First, maybe from as early as the mid-70s, Charles, the real motivating force, had already mentally moved on, consumed by his insatiable art collecting. Norton Simon, a fellow collector, famously said collecting was a disease.

"Perhaps frustrated by client capriciousness and the continuous demands of an unblemished public company earnings record, Charles was already elsewhere - although he did immerse himself in some campaigns when necessary and interested (Tories, British Airways, Silk Cut). Maurice, too, later started to rely on others (Anthony Simonds-Gooding, Robert Louis-Dreyfus), but still visited GUS, Associated Newspapers and Procter & Gamble with storyboards. The "min-aggro, max-distanced" mode of management could never work, as the business grew.

"But, essentially, they did not seem to have the stomach for the continuous effort and struggle - as long as the credit accrued to Saatchi & Saatchi. Eventually, limitless ambition in the form of the aborted move for the Midland Bank undid everything.

"In addition, sadness because an immensely talented and mutually reinforcing group of people could not hold together. Charles, Maurice, Tim Bell, Jeremy Sinclair, Bill Muirhead, Roy Warman and Terry Bannister were a formidable combination (even including Michael Johnson and David Perring in the early days!).

"As Charles first and then Maurice lost focus and interest in the detail, while continuing to claim credit and insist on control, it was perhaps inevitable that some would go in their own direction.

"It was no accident that M&C Saatchi did not have the same control mechanism for the brothers from the beginning. The other three partners would not have it. And acquisitions never again played a significant part in M&C's growth and hence less success.

"In any event, the Saatchi & Saatchi Company was unique and will be unmatched. It's a pity the group did not stick together. I would like to have seen how they (we) would have dealt with the BRICs, the Next 11 emerging economies and digital."

- Lord Bell, chairman, Chime Communications

Saatchis (1970-1987), latterly as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Compton

"In Charles Saatchi, the agency had a ruthless leader uninterested in detail but only in results and in Maurice somebody who was the instrument of his brother's ambition.

"Together they taught me that you could achieve whatever you set out to do. It was there that I learned how to run a business, which I've done successfully ever since - thanks partly to Martin Sorrell.

"It was hard and we had some bad days - but the good days outnumbered them. It was actually a happy place with a low staff turnover. And we did a lot of exciting work from the 'pregnant man' to British Airways.

"I never heard it said that I was the 'third brother'. I only ever heard the term once and that was when Charles took me to lunch in the late 80s and told me: 'It's time for the third brother to return.'

"By this time, they had lost control and wanted me to continue what I had been doing. But you can't go back. In fact, I'm not greatly interested in the 40th birthday because I spend little time thinking about the past. However, I think that M&C Saatchi is much closer to the agency I remember."

- Sir John Hegarty, worldwide creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Saatchis (1970-1973), deputy creative director

"The Swinging Sixties didn't start in the ad industry until the 70s. The business world of advertising had resisted the revolution that had swept through music, fashion and film.

"Corporations, the clients of agencies, were slow to react to this changing world. But the change was coming.

"If Collett Dickenson Pearce was the academy of creativity, Saatchi & Saatchi was the comprehensive school. Brooding, vocal, irreverent and impatient. On the surface there was the 'bank-like' letterhead, the pinstripe suits and a sober full-page ad in the press proclaiming: 'Why it's time for a new kind of advertising.' Inside, however, it was an open-plan, in-your-face, creative office capturing the revolution that was about to sweep our industry. The average age in the office was 25. Charles, at 27, was the wise old man.

"If you couldn't stand a chair being thrown at you, you wouldn't survive. The ideas, the media and the agency's ambitions were big. Weekends were for wimps. The anti-smoking campaign, Jaffa Citrus Board, Granada TV rental and an uber cool department store called Escalade kick-started the revolution. But the most important client of all was Saatchis. A global brand was being born."

- Jeremy Sinclair, chairman, M&C Saatchi

Saatchis (1970-1994), latterly as group chairman

"When I went for a creative job at what was then Cramersaatchi, Charles Saatchi especially liked one ad from my book. It was for a slimming product and was a first person story: 'Two men offered me their seats on the bus. I needed them both.' Anyway, I took one look at him and thought to myself, he'll do.

"You always knew where you stood with Charles. While Maurice is more cerebral and appreciates the theory, Charles is only interested in the practice. He only ever wanted to know if the work was good. Nothing else mattered.

"Both always took the wider view. Although we were small, we wanted to be number one in the UK and then the world. We never believed people who said that if we got big we couldn't be good.

"Because the brothers were outsiders, they didn't arrive on the scene with lots of clutter or baggage. We had no idea what we couldn't or shouldn't do. Everything we did just seemed normal.

"We liked being able to change the minds of large groups of people and I think our political work succeeded because of that.

"I would like to see Saatchi & Saatchi doing well - just as I want us to - because I want to see the Saatchi name prosper whatever its embodiment."

- Bill Muirhead, founding partner, M&C Saatchi

Saatchis (1972-1994), latterly as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Europe

"When I joined Saatchi & Saatchi, the place was organisational chaos. There were no systems because we'd been born out of a creative consultancy. Clients didn't even get contact reports.

"Yet the agency was empowering. I was given the freedom to succeed or fail by my own decisions. I'd been used to working in agencies like Ogilvy & Mather and Dorlands, where you did things by the book. At Saatchis, there was no hierarchy to hold you back. Charles made you feel better than you thought you were. It was more fun being at work than at home. What I've learned here is that what we do is a collective process and that business success depends on great people.

"It was at Saatchis where we came up with the 'nothing is impossible' mantra that epitomised our spirit of never giving up. Now we've adopted 'brutal simplicity'. It's not necessarily stronger but it's different and it's something all of us in the agency can relate to.

"The most important thing for us has always been new business. It's our lifeblood and I love doing it. Agencies are 'leaky buckets' so you always have to keep the new accounts flowing and we've always been fearless in our pursuit of them."

- Graham Fink, executive creative director, M&C Saatchi

Saatchis (1986-1990), senior creative

"In the 80s, I had the good fortune to work at Saatchi & Saatchi when Paul Arden was the creative director.

Fast-forward 25 years and I am now the creative director at M&C Saatchi. Paul's shoes are impossible to fill but I hope his influence and the memories of his indefatigable spirit inform my judgments and creative decisions.

"His constant refrain of 'what is wrong with this' still rings in my ears. He challenged all of us to excel, and we did.

"Back then, big opportunities were plentiful and there was also enough time and money to realise them.

"I was lucky to get my hands on the British Airways global brief and, with Hugh Hudson at the helm, we created one of the biggest commercials of the decade: 'face'.

"Sadly, the money isn't around any more and, as creative departments shrink, time spent on briefs is at a premium. But the fun still exists and there are opportunities for the smart creative. With the benefit of exciting, cutting-edge technology and the new digital medium, the creative possibilities are infinite.

"The original Saatchi & Saatchi spirit still abounds at M&C. How can it not with Moray MacLennan and Tim Duffy leading the way and Maurice, Jeremy (Sinclair), Bill (Muirhead) and David (Kershaw) still in our corner?

"In 2010 there may be less money and less time, but there's still plenty of talent around. Most of my creative department weren't even born in the 80s, but one thing I am sure of; had they been, they would have given us all a run for our money!"

- Moray MacLennan, worldwide chief executive, M&C Saatchi

Saatchis (1983-1995), latterly as joint managing director

"For me, Saatchis in the 80s/early 90s: salary £6,000. Thatcher shouting at me. Charles shouting at me. Boring my friends about the Saatchi thing - the power, the influence, the sex. Working 70 hours a week. Playing darts. Silk Cut. Brown carpet.

"For me, M&C Saatchi in the late 90s/00s: blaze of publicity. Fear. Pitching. Working in a building site. Boring my friends about the Saatchi thing - the power, the influence, the sex. Divorce. Grey carpet. Working 70 hours a week. Marriage. Kids. Pitching. Change.

"Saatchis is the only place I've ever worked. The main reason is, of course, that I've never been offered another job. But also because it's always been fun. And then, of course, there's the power, influence and sex bit."

- Tamara Ingram, executive vice-president, executive managing director, Grey Global; president, Team P&G

Saatchis (1985-2001), latterly as chief executive

"The cleverest thing about Saatchi & Saatchi was a culture in which everybody put the agency above themselves, which meant that everybody worked for the collective good. But it was never a strain even though nobody went to bed very early. It was great fun, we played hard and some tremendous friendships were formed. You got a huge sense of entrepreneurship and creativity.

"The agency was also born of a time when people were more courageous. I remember going with Paul Bainsfair to pitch for British Steel knowing that the creative work we had wouldn't win us the business. Paul told the client team that he'd been given the wrong work to present but assured them he'd be back the following day with the right work!

"I've always believed the Saatchi mantra that nothing is impossible and that if people enjoy their jobs - and are cherished the way they were at Saatchis - so much more can be achieved. I think that happens less today.

"The agency showed how simple, dramatic messages could encapsulate a period and symbolise cultural change."

- Adam Crozier, chief executive, ITV

Saatchis (1988-1999), latterly as joint chief executive

"The split in January 1995 that led to the creation of M&C Saatchi was difficult for everybody - whatever side they were on - because we'd been a close family. I was very torn, particularly when Maurice Saatchi called me to join the breakaway. But I'd been asked to step up to be chief executive and I'd given my word. I never regretted staying.

"What struck me was the dedication and professionalism that prevailed throughout that period. I'll never forget Christmas Eve 1994 and we were having a terrible time with Toyota. Yet even with so much going on in the background, Jeremy Sinclair was obsessed with getting the right ad for the client.

"Working at Saatchi & Saatchi meant you were surrounded by exceptionally bright people. It taught me how organisations could only succeed by drawing on the different strengths of their staff.

"The Saatchi name will always be recalled with huge admiration. It stands for something, particularly because of Charles. It's wonderful to see M&C Saatchi prospering because it allows the legacy to live on while giving Saatchi & Saatchi a different kind of future. We'll see if it's the right one."

- Alan Bishop, chief executive, Southbank Centre

Saatchis (1985-2003), latterly as chairman international

"When memories from my 17 years at Saatchis pop up, they often feel more like scenes recalled from some extravagantly unconvincing soap than episodes from my own life.

"Everything was a paradox. A blistering work ethic, fuelled by drink and drugs and complicated by an endless round of incestuous office affairs. A glee in making loads of money, coupled to an obsession with producing cutting-edge creative work that was hard to sell. A crusade for endless growth, handicapped by an automatic contempt for systems and process.

"The brothers' relentless drive to be the biggest and the best created a vortex of self-belief. As well as every success, any perversity, failure or disaster was simply sucked into the whirlpool of chutzpah. When big clients were lost, it proved they weren't good enough for the agency. If people left or formed breakaways, it just meant the agency was so good it didn't need them anyway.

"The apparent impossibility of surviving the near terminal late 80s collapse produced the mantra 'nothing is impossible'. Even the fission of the Great Split couldn't destroy such a cult-like culture. The agency was hilarious, passionate and fearless - and produced some brilliant ads. I'm still recovering."

- Paul Bainsfair, European chief executive, Iris

Saatchis (1985-1991), managing director

"Around about 1983, we made a TV spot for Schweppes based on the old you-know-who idea. It revolved around the mistaken identity of Indiana Jones.

"Two days later and basking in the glow of an unusually happy client, we discovered that the rights we had paid for only included his hat.

"Peering down the barrel of a £250,000 write-off, I clutched my arse and went to tell the then joint chief executives, Roy Warman and Terry Bannister, the bad news. They were playing football in their office. They didn't seem too fazed.

"'Don't look so worried, you'll think of something,' they said. I had no idea what but I was pleased not to be sacked and their confidence was infectious. Putting an assured look on my face, I called in Dylan Hammond, the account manager.

"'Right Dylan, book a flight to San Francisco, go to LucasFilms, see George Lucas, show him the ad and ask him if we can run it.'

"'Are you mad?' Dylan asked.

"He looked more than a little doubtful but off he went.

"Two days later, Dylan called to say he'd seen George, who loved the film and said we could run it with his blessing.

"Audacity. That's what we learnt at 80 Charlotte Street. It was contagious and for quite a few years it made the place unbeatable."

- John Perriss, Zenith Media, later ZenithOptimedia (1988-2004), latterly as chairman

Saatchis (1980-1988), media director

"In 1975, having been at Compton, an agency with a great media reputation but a creative output that was no better than workmanlike, I found myself via merger/acquisition at Saatchi & Saatchi and beginning the most exciting and stimulating journey imaginable.

"Very quickly the newly merged agency clicked and I was one of a team that really did believe that 'nothing was impossible'.

"Existing clients enjoyed better work, we pitched for new business all the time and both the agency and the brand Saatchi grew and grew.

"Under the inspired leadership of the brothers, Tim (now Lord) Bell and others, we were always encouraged to 'go for it'. Chutzpah understated the pervading spirit.

"That 'brand essence' never left me in the following 30 years. In the mid-80s I proposed the idea that became Zenith Media and eventually changed the ad agency business model forever. Responding, Maurice simply hand wrote on the document: 'Great idea, John, let's do it.'

"Saatchis was to advertising what Elvis and the Beatles were to music. It simply changed the way everything worked thereafter."

- David Droga, founder and creative chairman, Droga5

Saatchis (1999-2003), executive creative director

"My immense fondness for Saatchi & Saatchi is somewhat disproportionate to the time I actually spent at Charlotte Street.

"It would be easy for me to judge the merits of my time by the amount of great days I enjoyed, or the consistency of quality work we produced, which - for the sticklers - was high on both counts.

"But, for me,what really resonates is just how much I actually enjoyed the crappiest, worst days too. Those stinking hateful days when nothing goes right and everything is a conspiracy theory against common sense and creativity. Even those days were amazing. I genuinely think I laughed out loud, every bloody day. Seriously.

"Because every day I knew I was surrounded by some of the funniest and most talented people in our business.

"People I respected and together we actually felt like we were part of something.

"We weren't just building our careers, we were perpetuating a brilliant culture forged long before us.

"Three-and-a-half years wasn't a long time, but it was long enough to make some lifelong friends, produce some great work and sow the seeds of confidence in me to one day open my own place."

- Robert Senior, chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Group

"Although I've only been part of Saatchi & Saatchi for three years, I suspect it's probably been part of me since I first joined advertising in 1987.

"The work at the time defined the industry, dripping with ambition from an agency immune to fear. Is it different now? Of course. The passage of time has regrettably taken its toll on us all, not to mention the business.

"But the fundamentals remain the same. Aim high ... no, a bit higher ... no, aim really bloody high. High enough to produce work that starts conversations up and down the country. And do so with a spring in your step, armed with a pen and a plan. I suppose today we are obliged to add the requisite gadgetry - but please don't turn up without a pen or a plan, or, for that matter, a spring in your step. At its heart, Saatchi & Saatchi is a brand, and, as the saying goes, people die, buildings dilapidate, but brands live on. Heaven forbid we renege on the brand counsel we administer to our clients. So it's not an option to deviate from the Saatchi & Saatchi DNA - love it or hate it."

FORTY YEARS OF SAATCHIS

1970: Maurice Saatchi, an ex-Campaign promotions manager, sets up Saatchi & Saatchi with his copywriter brother, Charles. They claim to be starting with £1 million-worth of business - a gross exaggeration. Tim Bell, later dubbed "the third brother", joins from Geers Gross as the managing director.

1973: First agency acquisition, paying £130,000 for Manchester's E G Dawes. It heralds a stock market-funded acquisition binge.

1974: Agency doubles in size with acquisition of Notley Advertising.

1975: Does reverse takeover of Compton, whose clients include Procter & Gamble and Rowntree. Becomes the UK's fifth-largest agency.

1977: Martin Sorrell appointed as group finance director.

1978: Agency becomes a household name by successfully helping propel Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party to power with the iconic "Labour isn't working" poster.

1982: Wins British Airways account.

1985: Overpays massively to acquire Ted Bates, the world's third-biggest agency, for $450 million. A total of 13 companies are acquired in a single year, usually at top dollar. The brothers hire the former Whitbread boss Anthony Simonds-Gooding to bring order to their disparate empire. He soon quits in frustration.

1987: Posts record profits. Brothers make offer for Midland Bank and are ridiculed when it fails. Paul Arden appointed executive creative director of the Charlotte Street agency. Remains its creative driving force for 14 years. Silk Cut's "slashed purple" campaign and the British Airways "Manhattan" spot appear during his term of office.

1988: Announces formation of Zenith Media, headed by John Perriss, out of media departments of Saatchi & Saatchi and sister shops Dorlands and Ted Bates.

1989: Profits fall for first time in 19 years. Robert Louis-Dreyfus named chief executive. Disposal programme begins, along with thousands of redundancies.

1993: Chicago fund manager David Herro takes advantage of tumbling share price to build significant stake. He claims brothers have mismanaged company and squandered resources with lavish personal spending.

1994: Maurice voted off board. Charles resigns. Mars rips £250 million-worth of business out of Bates in protest.

1995: Brothers form new agency, M&C Saatchi, along with the top Saatchi & Saatchi executives Bill Muirhead, David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair. Moray MacLennan and Nick Hurrell join them as joint managing directors. Dixons, Mirror Group Newspapers, British Airways and Gallaher quit Saatchi & Saatchi for the start-up. Saatchi & Saatchi Group changes name to Cordiant.

1996: Maurice created life peer.

1997: Cordiant breaks in two, creating Saatchi & Saatchi plc and Cordiant Communications Group. Each hold 50 per cent of Zenith. Kevin Roberts appointed as Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive.

1998: Saatchi & Saatchi loses National Lottery account to WCRS.

1999: M&C Saatchi named Campaign's Agency of the Year. Adam Crozier quits as Saatchi & Saatchi joint chief executive to run the FA.

2000: Saatchi & Saatchi acquired by Publicis Groupe for $1.9 billion. M&C Saatchi overtakes Saatchi & Saatchi in Campaign's Top 30 billings rankings for the first time.

2002: Under the creative command of David Droga, Saatchi & Saatchi sweeps awards board with work for NSPCC and Club 18-30.

2004: M&C floated on stock market.

2006: M&C Saatchi loses the British Airways account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

2007: Saatchi & Saatchi, long synonymous with the Conservative Party, takes on the Labour Party account. Publicis Groupe aligns Saatchi & Saatchi with its Fallon subsidiary under a new structure, the SSF Group. Robert Senior, a Fallon London founding partner, takes over the group in the UK.

2010: Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi come together for joint 40th birthday party.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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