With the mass of prejudice that continues to surround M&C Saatchi,
it’s easy to lose sight of the compelling reasons for making it
Campaign’s agency of the year.
Memories of the agency’s birth amid the acrimony of the biggest bust-up
in UK advertising history are hard to erase. So is the lingering belief
that it owes its success to cronyism while displaying an unattractive
Yet if respect rather than affection is the most it can ever expect, M&C
Saatchi’s performance during 1999 has surely banished any remaining
suggestion that the agency is merely Maurice Saatchi’s instrument of
An outstanding new-business record - which included the capture of Rover
cars, along with enormous chunks of work from Sainsbury’s and BT - puts
paid to that idea. What’s more, it has proved to be the agency’s trump
card in a year in which none of the leading contenders produced
consistently high levels of creative work to win the accolade on
creative output alone.
Indeed, leaving aside Whiskas, Foster’s lager and PJ O’Rourke’s acerbic
commercial about English eccentricity for British Airways, M&C Saatchi’s
output is not yet significantly better than the best work of TBWA GGT
Simons Palmer and WCRS, its two chief rivals for the title.
However, neither was able to show sufficient creative breadth to win the
race. As a result, the outcome of the 1999 contest has been determined
by achievements in other areas. It is in those that M&C Saatchi has put
clear water between itself and the rest to become, in its sixth year, a
More importantly, M&C Saatchi has shown itself willing and able to
fashion itself to match the changing and extended needs of clients. A
majority-owned direct marketing operation, as well as an online
’one-stop shop’ combining advertising know-how with web design,
consultancy and distribution expertise, were both unveiled during the
Above all, the agency proved it can contest and win important new
business on its own merits and not because of high-level contacts by the
founding partners in their previous existences.
The latest MMS rankings provide the most spectacular illustration of M&C
Saatchi’s progress. To go from a standing start in 1995 to the number
six spot - only three places behind Saatchi & Saatchi - is an
achievement unlikely ever to be matched. Moreover, the agency’s billings
rose by 48 per cent to pounds 227 million in the year to the end of
The agency’s three biggest wins of the year bear out what it is capable
of when it is at its most persistent. Its snatching of the Sainsbury’s
TV account from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO was the climax of a ’Trojan
horse’ strategy begun almost three years earlier.
And when Rover declared itself so underwhelmed by the agency’s creative
pitch that it declined to put the proposals into research, the Golden
Square lights burned late to get back in contention to capture the
creative assignment on the carmaker’s pounds 40 million UK account.
Of our other shortlisted shops, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer offered the best
reel with arresting TV spots backed by very strong print work.
Forty-three major awards reflect an agency very much in the
self-confident mould of its creative chief, Trevor Beattie. The work for
Sony PlayStation has performed particularly well, not only sustaining
its place at the top of the tree but belieing suggestions that it was
becoming old and predictable.
However, TBWA has still to show its all-round capabilities. The Nissan
and NatWest campaigns are impenetrable and, although little business was
lost, wins were mostly small scale and FMCG assignments remain
An uneven creative product also denied WCRS the ultimate prize it has
been threatening to grab for the past two years. It would have been a
timely award for the agency, which celebrated its 20th birthday last
year with some quality additions to its client list. Sega picked it for
the pan-European launch of Dreamcast, while Rover assigned it the
creative task for the pounds 30 million international launches of its
vitally important 25 and 45 models. The pounds 8 million Anchor Butter
win topped a highly creditable year.
At the same time, WCRS continued to produce outstanding work on
cornerstone accounts such as BMW and Orange for which the orang-utan
’natural instincts’ campaign has proved equally adaptable above and
below the line.
This contrasts sharply with other disappointing work. Dreamcast is
confusing, Camelot looks in need of fresh impetus and Carling suffers
from the advertising equivalent of brewer’s droop. If the creative work
can be made to match its new-business operation, WCRS will be a force to
be reckoned with.
The revolutionary zeal of St Luke’s continues to appeal. The agency
topped last year’s new-business league by a mile with substantial wins
including IPC, BT’s youth account and Sky TV.
Meanwhile, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO showed astonishing resilience to
retain the bulk of BT against all odds while rebuilding what seemed to
be a fatally fractured relationship with Sainsbury’s. And the 78 per
cent billings hike recorded by HHCL & Partners suggests its impact is
For now, though, the limelight belongs to M&C Saatchi. It would be
churlish to claim it has not been earned.
Recent winners: BMP DDB (1998);
St Luke’s (1997); Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (1996, 1995); HHCL & Partners
(1994); Bartle Bogle Hegarty (1993).