Saatchi & Saatchi rethinks Darwin's strategy

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Saatchi & saatchi, reworking its interactive strategy, is evaluating the evolution of its Darwin Digital unit.

"We will expand the company and its offerings," said Saatchi & Saatchi North America Chairman-CEO Jennifer Laing. "How we do that is debatable. We're looking at all sorts of options from joint ventures to acquisitions."

One scenario is the launch of an Internet holding company, with the current code name of Carbon, said executives close to Saatchi. Coby O'Brien, president-CEO of Darwin Digital, would head the unit with former Blue Marble President-CEO David Yakir, said executives close to the situation (AdAge Daily, May 15).

It was unclear whether the company would be housed within Saatchi & Saatchi's holdings or be a standalone unit with an investment from the agency. One executive said the latter is a more likely scenario, adding that the agency has considered divesting itself of Darwin in the past. In that case, Saatchi & Saatchi would work with Carbon on integrated business pitches. However, Carbon would be free to gain new clients on its own.

Darwin's current clients include General Mills, Hewlett-Packard Co., Lucent Technologies, Procter & Gamble Co. and Red Lobster. Darwin's 1999 revenue was $28 million.

UNCLEAR IF DARWIN NAME STAYS

Saatchi & Saatchi launched Darwin in July 1997 under Mr. O'Brien's leadership.

Darwin's president, Cynthia Rogers, came aboard in March 1999. At the time, she said Darwin's biggest challenge was attracting creative and technological talent.

Ms. Rogers, however, left after only a few months.

Another executive said Carbon could house not only Darwin, but also could provide venture capital for other Internet companies.

It was unclear whether the Darwin Digital name would remain. In fact, Mr. O'Brien has registered the URL www.carbonservicecapital.com.

All executives, including Ms. Laing, cautioned that the plans for Saatchi & Saatchi's interactive expansion are still in the early stages and could change.

Ms. Laing said Saatchi & Saatchi PLC is examining "every what-if (situation) and scenario."

Mr. Yakir did not return calls for comment.

Mr. Yakir departed Blue Marble last October, one month after MacManus Group merged its Blue Marble interactive arm with Novo Interactive, a San Francisco Web shop.

He, along with several Blue Marble staffers, moved into Saatchi & Saatchi's offices this spring, a Saatchi & Saatchi spokesman said.

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