Maurice Saatchi turns on monster networks

Maurice Saatchi, one of the earliest driving forces behind the globalisation of the advertising industry, has dropped a bombshell by admitting that his vision has failed to materialise.

He claimed the concept is being undermined by an "unspoken conspiracy" among the communications supergroups to commoditise creativity in order to achieve cost efficiencies.

Speaking in Sydney, the M&C Saatchi founding partner stunned industry watchers with his warning that the agency network structure he pioneered in the early 80s had become a "Frankenstein monster".

The admission marks an about-face by Saatchi, who built his plans on transforming Saatchi & Saatchi into a network that could match the demands of multinational clients on the theories of Harvard Business School's Professor Ted Levitt.

It was Levitt's advocacy of companies learning to operate as if the world were a single market, ignoring superficial regional and national differences, that inspired the Saatchi brothers to build a network that would mirror the trend.

But, last week, Saatchi claimed that vested interests among the global agency groups had subverted his global dream. "We took this up and became prominent exponents of this new business. But we are just beginning to feel maybe that the phase has run its course," he said.

"The networks' thinking is that if they can eliminate creativity as a discriminator between agencies, they can sell bundled-up services at a discount price."

Saatchi's criticisms come at a time when the growing use of procurement departments in reviews has drawn sharp criticism from the ad industry.

Faced with the prospect of little economic growth, the groups have been forced to produce better margins through cost efficiencies while running the risk of alienating clients who don't believe "one-stop" shopping has lived up to its promises.

Saatchi's associates were stressing this week that he was not predicting the break-up of holding companies, only that they would have to rethink their offerings as their networks became interchangeable and their distinctive creative characters were lost.

"While it's true that we were advocates of a global approach and we still are, we always took the view that it is possible to impose on the priority of creative importance," Saatchi added. "Although that was very hard to do, we were devoted to it as a mission, a cause."

This, he insisted, was very different from what was happening now when advertising was being sold on price in a way that wasn't dreamt of in earlier times.

Nor was the downplaying of creativity lost on clients. "This is the last thing they want to happen to advertising," Saatchi said. "They know the perils of commodity markets in their own businesses."

- Perspective, p27.


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