Opinion: Perspective - The real story behind the Saatchi/Fallon alliance

As agency names go, SSF has an unfortunate ring of utility to it. Considering it represents two of the most resonant names in advertising, let's hope this is not a sign of things to come at adland's new "no it's not a merger" mini group.

You'll have read in Campaign a couple of weeks ago about Publicis Groupe's plan to hitch Saatchi & Saatchi and Fallon. Now the official press release has finally been ground out, confirming all. Mind you, I suspect that not even the architects of the deal know yet quite what they're going to do.

According to the formal statement, SSF is going to be a "dynamic new entity to champion creativity and propel growth". Publicis' Maurice Levy reckons that the new structure will "usher in a new era of powerful growth" for both agencies.

But let's look at the press release a little closer. Press releases are always very telling, not so much for the key facts (which Campaign readers already knew anyway), but because they are generally the result of much politicking and attempts at feather-smoothing.

Bearing this in mind, it's interesting to note that in detailing the new alliance, the press release mentions Fallon 16 times (not including mentions of Mr Fallon himself) and Saatchis only six times. And someone has bent over horizontal to big up the Fallon brand.

Pat Fallon is "a true creative trailblazer", Levy says, the agency's work is "ground-breaking" and "has been challenging every convention in the category for the past 26 years".

The Saatchis global chief Kevin Roberts says: "I've admired Fallon since I got into this business" and "Fallon is an iconic brand full of irreverence, courage and smarts." Roberts adds he's "honoured" to be working with Fallon, which has a "great legacy". Meanwhile, Fallon London has "a strong reputation", "acclaimed creative output". You get the picture.

Clearly the release is designed to reassure everyone at Fallon that, honestly, they're a great brand with a long-term future. Hmm.

By the time you read this, the guys down at Fallon will have had their first pep talk from Roberts and will probably have heard similar glowing endorsements of their agency.

Still, I suspect that there are a few people at Fallon in London feeling a little nervous about it all. As by far the strongest brand of the SSF pairing in this market, and one that has built its credibility on the strength of its talent and its creative work (rather than relying on gimmicky positionings and jargon), Fallon could be forgiven for wondering what it has to gain from all of this.

What's more, won't it be losing the full commitment of one of the best chiefs in London, Robert Senior, who's going to head up SSF?

But if anyone can pull this all off, I would bet on Senior. Yet he'll certainly need to muster all of his talents and energies if he's to rationalise what on the face of it looks like a clumsy knee-jerk bid to rescue Fallon US and Saatchis London.

One of the keys to success, of course, will be ensuring that it's business as usual at Fallon in London. It's anticipated that Laurence Green will take more of a centre-stage role and although he's no hard-nosed businessman, he's one of advertising's very best and eloquent thinkers and an utterly convincing figurehead.

More challenging is turning around the lacklustre Saatchis in the UK. Recent history suggests that energy, passion and talk are not enough. Better talent is needed to produce better work and win new business. Senior will need a lieutenant of the highest calibre. Deja vu, anyone?

The subtext of all of this, I think, is that Fallon has not worked as a mini-network. It has scant offices now, and really London is the gem. Is Fallon US worth preserving? There are those in the know who say not. Would Fallon here be any less of an agency without a US headquarters? No. Is SSF the answer? In the short-term, it's probably the most politic one.