Feature

50 years of Saatchi: The original 1970 launch interview

Charles Saatchi and his brother, Maurice, announced the launch of Saatchi & Saatchi in Campaign on 11 September 1970. To mark the 50th anniversary, we have republished that pulsating interview. And, half a century on, we asked the brothers’ three business partners, Jeremy Sinclair, Bill Muirhead and David Kershaw, who worked at the old agency and later set up M&C Saatchi, to explain why the Saatchi vision still resonates.

The original 1970 launch interview

The 1970 interview

There is, you are certain, some relish in the way Charles Saatchi says, with a careful creasing of the brow: “We will cut ourselves off from 50 per cent of advertisers.” There is self-confidence when he says that advertisers and agencies have forgotten why they spend millions of pounds a year on advertising.

[Maurice worked at Haymarket, the owner of Campaign, but Jeremy Sinclair says Charles had a strong relationship of his own with the editor, Bernard Barnett, “who was in our offices well in advance – you [Campaign] knew this [launch] was coming”. Sinclair adds: “You see from that photo of Charles how young he was [27 years old]. We were all very young. I think that was an important factor.”]

There is conviction and innocence when he says that his staff will produce astonishing advertising because they are not only talented but think of themselves as salesmen of the client. And there is simply an “inevitable” conclusion when he says that he wants to go public in three years’ time.

[Charles fulfilled his ambition of floating the company on the stock market – albeit it took five years as Saatchi & Saatchi merged with Garland-Compton, which was already listed, in 1975.]

In between there is either naivete or rare home-truths about the advertising industry. Probably it is a mixture of the two but which dominates depends on your own views.

London's newest advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi (his younger brother Maurice, who pleads that he is two years older than his 24) appear as natural a team as Cramer Saatchi, the creative consultancy that has now folded. But whereas Ross Cramer gave the partnership a much more relaxed atmosphere, the two Saatchis provide a double act of aggressive salesmanship.

Both are excitable, sound very much alike, use the same expressions (most advertising is either “terrific” or “shit”). If one stops talking the other instantly takes up the script. Each is caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the other. If they become aware that you are accusing them of over-simplification or platitudes, they are sure that you will still accept that what they are saying is true and unique to their thinking.

[Charles’ vision was like a “virus”, even though “it’s an unfortunate analogy at the moment”, David Kershaw says. “What it does reflect is a very fundamental attitude – an outrageous desire to change the world, to do things dramatically, no pussy-footing. It was attracting people who basically say: ‘Fuck it, I’m going to make this change.’ That’s why I find the article so fascinating. It was the beginning of the petri dish.”]

What they say is important and not least because of the reputation that Cramer Saatchi built up as a creative consultancy and the work that the members of the new agency have done. But running a creative consultancy, where much of the work may be used for agency new-business presentations that can exist in a marketing vacuum, calls for a different discipline from running an agency.

Many people in the industry, for instance, held the consultancy in high esteem but at the same time wondered how it would succeed in producing ads that must appear in the media.

Charles Saatchi is quick to reply: the consultancy worked for 15 of the top 20 agencies and through them for most major advertisers. He worked, he says, answering another query over his creative image, on many packaged-goods accounts and many of his ads ran in successful campaigns. 

The new agency will be heavily orientated towards the creative side and Saatchi believes that the agency’s strongest selling line is the work produced by his people, particularly the two newcomers – Ron Collins from Doyle Dane Bernbach and Alan Tilby, from Collett Dickenson Pearce.

[“John Hegarty and I had the same reaction,” Sinclair says, recalling reading the interview in 1970. “It was Charles doing this great interview and all of the philosophy and all the rest of it, we agreed with, but he didn’t mention us and we’d made Cramer Saatchi famous. We’d won gold awards, silver awards, we’d won at Cannes.” Instead “he mentioned these new chaps” and Sinclair thought: “Who are they?” Half a century later, “my reaction has not changed”, he says dryly.]

The creative stress, as far as he is concerned, means no lop-sidedness or creative-boutique tag. Like Ronnie Kirkwood setting up his agency a year ago, he says: “We think of ourselves as a big agency. We are not interested in small clients or small billings.” In fact, the agency says that it will not accept billings of under £100,000.

“The creative function is the main one and one of only two services an agency should provide: the other is good media buying.

“They are the two services neccessary to fulfil the agency’s one function – to sell the client’s goods. We don’t understand any other services.

“We will not match the client’s marketing or research departments. If we need research, we will go to top research companies outside. The point about our marketing man is that he is from the retailer’s side and so can tell the client what his own marketing department can’t.” 

There are also no account executives among the working and control groups and the closer contact between the creative people and the advertiser is designed to make the creative people think of themselves as salesmen.

[Charles’ idea of creatives thinking “like salesmen of the client” was persuasive but Bill Muirhead, who joined in 1972, says the agency soon discovered it still needed account executives, like himself, to handle clients and impose business discipline.]

It will be interesting to see whether this is as meaningful in practice as the Saatchi brothers fervently believe and whether, when the agency grows, it will be easy to stop crystallisation of departments and the emergence of account executives. As Maurice Saatchi himself admits: “We don’t know how the system will work.”

And his brother: “All our creative people have to act as if they were salesmen. They have to imagine themselves in the client’s position all the time. They have to see themselves with a warehouse full of the product which has to be sold.

“Most agencies have replaced the basic function of selling with myths and mystiques about marketing and research. But agencies and clients have become too sophisticated, whereas advertising is not a sophisticated process at all. It is a simple business.”

They say most of the troubles of advertising stem from the advertisers’ attitude towards research. “Companies realised it was impossible to pre-test sales effectiveness of ads but what they could pre-test was the effectiveness of communicating an idea or concept. So communication became the criterion of advertising, and not selling.

“Ask marketing directors what they want their advertising to do and too many will talk about brand awareness of creating a warm feeling for the company or improving the product image. They won’t talk about sales.

“Pre-testing on communication is only doing half the job! Much more could be done to test the sales effectiveness of ads that have appeared – if the client really wanted to see that every penny spent was justified.”

Their attitude towards selling they say, coupled with the fact that they won’t accept accounts under £100,000, will “cut ourselves off from 50 per cent of advertisers. They will say we don’t offer the services. We will say: ‘We don’t understand what other services there are.’ But whatever we say, they will never understand us.

“Most advertising is ineffective. Research shows that 75 per cent of Press ads are not even read. And most of these are the work of the big, sophisticated agencies. So they are merely, wasting the client’s money.

[“We wanted to be the biggest and the best and you see this right through the article,” Sinclair says. “When we started, all the big agencies were crap and all the great agencies were minute. PKL [Papert Koenig Lois] and CDP [Collett Dickenson Pearce] were pretty small in those days and Doyle Dane [Bernbach] was hardly a dot on the map in the UK. All the great work was being done by tiny, little shops. All the big agencies – McCann, Masius Wynne-Williams, JWT, Benton & Bowles – were deeply dull. The idea was to be the biggest and the best, to carry on growing until we got worse.”]

“An agency boasts if it has increased its client’s share of the market, by say, 18 per cent. Yet the odds are his ad will have been noticed by, say, 10 per cent and read by five. That agency has done a terrible job. Had the ad been any good it would have risen much more.” 

Without the motivation of selling, side events like awards become over-important. “Go into any top creative department and tell the copywriter he has put up sales of a product by X per cent, and he’ll be pleased. Tell him his ad has won an award and he’ll hit the roof with excitement.”

The setting up of the Saatchi agency comes after two years of refusals by the consultancy to accept various offers of backing to set up shop. In fact, they were offered backing when they left Colletts in 1968 but “we were not interested in a small business.

“But now we have reached the stage where we can get the clients and billings we want. Also it was becoming more difficult to work for agencies. We couldn’t agree with them or the way they operated.” 

Read the full interview with the M&C Saatchi co-founders here.