PROFILE: Meeting of minds - Lord Saatchi, Co-founder, Saatchinvest
By MARK KLEINMAN, marketingmagazine.co.uk, Thursday, 15 August 2002 12:00AM
Lord Saatchi is incommunicado. The 56-year-old peer is holidaying on a yacht in the South of France and he won't be disturbed. In any case, his office assures me, he hates giving interviews. It is about as polite but firm a rebuttal as any journalist can expect to receive.
With Parliament having risen for its long summer recess, and the running of seven-year-old M&C Saatchi in the now-veteran hands of joint chief executives Moray MacLennan and Nick Hurrell, Lord Saatchi might be forgiven for taking a break - a case of 'Saatchi isn't working'?
But it is unlikely to be a lengthy vacation. As David Kershaw, one of the agency's fellow founding partners, puts it: "Maurice has a serious case of mental hyperactivity. His curiosity to solve problems is relentless."
Now, that "mental hyperactivity is being channelled in a new direction.
Maurice, along with the other founders of M&C, is one of the brains behind Saatchinvest, a business that will take over under-performing brands and attempt to sprinkle magic dust over them.
The first candidates for this marketing alchemy are Complan, the meal replacement drink that has carved out a niche by not being aimed at slimmers, and Casilan, a supplement for body-builders. Food giant Heinz owns both products but you haven't heard much about them, have you? That's exactly the point.
Not that these brands don't have potential. It is impossible to imagine the Saatchis getting involved if there wasn't serious money to be made.
In many respects, Saatchinvest is a direct reflection of M&C's founding mantra, 'Brutal simplicity of thought'. Once the company has snapped up a brand, its team will devote significant resources toward revitalising and repositioning it with the aim of achieving top-line sales growth.
In a world where the focus of Unilever, Procter & Gamble and their FMCG rivals is on growth through a select cluster of 'power brands', there are myriad opportunities for nurturing orphaned products whose parents have pushed them out of the family nest. Brutally simple. Yet another Saatchi goldmine unwrapped.
But surely it is not that easy. After all, even Maurice and Charles do not have magic wands. So what is it that makes the brothers and their cohorts so confident that they can succeed? Time and again, unprompted, interviewees return to Maurice's elasticity of thought.
"He has a brilliant, brilliant mind. He has just the most fantastic grasp of the marketing communications world, says Lord Bell, chairman of Chime Communications. "He believes that brands are the key to everything, so I cannot think of anyone more likely to make under-performing brands bear fruit."
It is impossible to miss Lord Bell's enthusiasm when discussing his fellow peer. He admits to being biased when he describes Lord Saatchi as "a human being who has become more wonderful as he has become grander over the years and it underlines something fundamental about Maurice - that people enjoy talking about him.
Even those usually reluctant to indulge in anecdotal intimacy are prepared to take the plunge when it comes to Lord Saatchi. Martin George, director of marketing and commercial development at British Airways, one of M&C's founding (and current) clients, recalls occasions at dinner parties when Lord Saatchi has said something "extremely controversial, which has created a heated debate. Then I've noticed a smirk creeping across his face as he knows he has achieved his end."
But that sense of mischief is allied with a steely determination to solve clients' problems. As George puts it, his strength is "to see things from different angles, his ability to think laterally when you are stuck on an issue".
Robin Wight, chairman of WCRS, puts it another way: "He has a finely tutored, well-mannered mind, and has been able to harness Charles' talents. The duality of the relationship between them has created the most interesting dynamic."
It is perhaps paradoxical that other people are so much keener to talk about Lord Saatchi than he is about himself. It has certainly meant that few people know him well, despite - or maybe because of - his fame.
He graduated with first-class honours in economics in 1967 from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and three years later, co-founded Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. Lord Saatchi is also a governor of LSE and a director of the Centre for Policy Studies. He is married to the novelist Josephine Hart, with whom he has two sons.
In 1996, two years after his ousting as chairman by the Saatchi & Saatchi board and a year after the launch of M&C, Maurice was made a peer and now serves as Conservative spokesman on the Treasury and the Cabinet Office in the House of Lords.
So perhaps Saatchinvest is not such a new concept after all. If investment in under-performing brands is the project's USP, then one might well argue that as a lifelong Conservative supporter, Lord Saatchi has been engaging in it for years.
1970: Relaunches Cramer Saatchi as Saatchi & Saatchi with brother
1985: Becomes chairman of the agency
1994: Ousted from agency in boardroom coup
1995: Co-founder, M&C Saatchi
1996: Made life peer under Conservative government of John Major
2002: Co-founder, Saatchinvest
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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