OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Networks rant flies in the face of client orthodoxy

It's always good fun when an advertising figure that matters goes ballistic in public. The account of Maurice Saatchi's rant on page ten of this week's issue is the angriest broadside that Campaign's encountered in a long time. However, in a world where Kevin Roberts' "lovemarks" also count as serious business pronouncements (see http://www.saatchikevin.com), that is not saying much.

First, let me give you a flavour of Saatchi's speech that was delivered at a Sydney conference recently. The networks' thinking, he says, is that "if they can eliminate creativity as a discriminator between agencies, they can sell bundled-up services at a discount price". The motive is that "networks have a vested interest in driving out creativity. They want advertising to become a commodity market where price is all."

Leaving aside the idea of whether he is right or wrong for a moment, it is possible to be highly sceptical about these philosophical utterings.

Even Saatchi himself admits that they mark an extraordinary volte-face.

The Saatchi & Saatchi early history, after all, was entirely based on the notion that size matters. The brothers' legendary offers to buy much bigger players from their very earliest days showed this thinking in action from the outset.

Each successive stage had to have something that caught the imagination, made the headlines and made the Saatchi story more than the straightforward progression of a company up the profits ladder. The brothers set out to make money, certainly; but that came remarkably easily and after a few years was not enough.

The next idea was to show that a hotshop could become the biggest in the land. The one after that was about helping Thatcher win the 1979 election.

Buying a New York agency, never before done by a foreigner, was yet another challenge which engaged their interest.

The latest thing, it seems, is to attempt to differentiate M&C Saatchi by dissing the networks.

Truth is that there is scant evidence to back up Maurice's theory. Rather, the recent controversial Optus pitch in Australia seems to be the driver.

Reviewing its AU$50 million advertising account, which M&C won, the telecoms client was believed to have sought a 30 per cent reduction in fees. Ouch.

That glaring example aside, the bulk of evidence is that clients, like all companies, are focused on price but they are still primarily interested in strong creative ideas to drive their business. Even the most rabid procurement department would concede the essential truth that clients want creativity first and co-ordination second. Effectiveness, it follows, is the natural result of the marriage of those two elements.

This network bashing shows companies such as M&C Saatchi exist on two planets simultaneously. One is Planet PR (where you make big, bold pronouncements in an attempt to differentiate your much-admired business still further from the pack and fatten it up for sale when the markets improve). The other is Planet Everyone Else (where you can enjoy cosy alliances with networks such as Publicis on BA).

It is the ultimate irony that people who are furthest away from the day-to-day business of making ads and winning business seem to produce the least watertight pronouncements about it. Those who are immersed in the business day to day, grinding out ads, pushing the boundaries between advertising and other communications disciplines and adapting their working practices to make the most of new technology - well, they never have the time to make these sort of speeches, do they?

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