Close-Up: Live Issue - Hooper remodels the resurgent Team Saatchi

The agency is ditching its 'diet Saatchi' image, as its new managing director carves out a lucrative niche, Emma Barns writes.

Team Saatchi has been lining up new management and mobilising its players to move out of its Saatchi & Saatchi second-string positioning and into something more worthy of Premiership action.

And the effects are already being felt. In the past three months, the 16-strong agency has picked up £23 million of business, a 2006 record more impressive than that of the main agency.

Much of the new energy being pumped into Team Saatchi can be attributed to its new managing director, Sophie Hooper. The 36-year-old, who has spent her career in production, joined the agency last year, parachuting in to replace the Saatchis veteran Mike Parker.

When he founded Team Saatchi 12 years ago, Parker was briefed to take on smaller clients that either would not have been profitable for the main agency, or would have caused conflict. Under him, Team Saatchi's positioning became that of "diet Saatchi" - a watered-down version of the Charlotte Street giant. Tucked away in Saatchis' basement, it had until recently dropped off the industry's radar.

But things are changing. With the ambitious Hooper at its helm, Team Saatchi has already picked up two valuable retained clients this year (Emap's Closer magazine and the global Cyprus Tourist Board account) as well as holding on to its Johnson & Johnson business in the face of the account's centralisation into Lowe.

Lee Daley, the Saatchis chief executive, attributes this turnaround to the agency's repositioning along a project management model. After a reassessment last year, the agency is now positioned to offer clients its services on a project, rather than a retained, basis. "It acts as the mistress and not the wife for clients," Daley explains. "This has given it the energy of a start-up and makes for an interesting mix of clients. Some buy into it and end up staying and some continue to use it on a project basis."

In a crowded market full of generalist shops, this definition seems smart.

One industry observer says: "Most agencies say they can work on a project basis, but if an agency makes it its speciality, it gives it a defined audience that it can provide with specialist knowledge."

Hooper explains that retained clients are still necessary to underpin the projects and lists clients including the Greater London Authority and the recycling body Wrap, both of which work with the agency on a permanent basis.

She is keen to add that Team Saatchi's recent success has a lot to do with its staff: "It's all about the different management. I've been hiring young, hungry people, such as Matthew Robinson, who handles our new business."

She explains that her non-traditional background has also been an advantage.

Her previous jobs include the managing director's role at the production company Vermillion Films, and a five-year stint at the then HHCL & Partners, where she set up the production arm Advertising Brasserie.

"Mike didn't want a typical suit with a graduate background. It means I can see things and do things from a different angle," Hooper says.

One thing she is keen to do differently is to make Team Saatchi's pitches far more laid-back. She says: "It's probably my TV background, but I don't take things too seriously. We use boards instead of the traditional PowerPoint and I waffle on and wave my arms about. Clients seem to like that."

She says this way of working makes for a more collaborative relationship. "It's not us and them, like it has been at other agencies I've worked at. We want clients involved. They can come to the edit suit and get their hands dirty."

Closer's publishing director, Sophie Wybrew-Bond, agrees this casual attitude was a draw, with Team Saatchi calling their meeting more of a "discussion". She lists Team Saatchi's other advantages as being "fleetness of foot, high production value and good creative".

The agency is also unusual in that it doesn't employ a creative director.

Hooper says: "Jim (Salter, head of art), Kevin (Millicheap, head of copy), Derek (Walker, head of planning) and I work as the creative judgment pool.

It's mad, but it works. It also means we can move more quickly than in a big agency, where there are more layers."

Given the agency's recent performance - picking up clients that would complement the main agency's client list - is it conceivable that it will one day be rolled into its parent? Daley denies this will happen. "It gives me more than one path to market. I have two different stories to tell with Saatchis and Team Saatchi," he explains.

So the future for Team Saatchi is independence, and Hooper has big plans.

She is expecting more account wins in the coming months. "We want to get in more funky, sexy clients - ones we have affinity with and will be suited to," she says.

Team Saatchi is relocating to a more segregated area of the main office.

An official relaunch to raise awareness of its repositioning is also on the cards. However, Daley claims there won't be a big song and dance about this. He says: "We have a very viable positioning and there's not going to be any aggressive jumping up and down about it. The agency is doing great and this is just going to continue."