IT DOESN'T ADD UP

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The Saatchi & Saatchi & New Saatchi pieces are not adding up to serious business drama. More like melodrama. Or English farce.

How is it, for example, that Saatchi & Saatchi Co.'s directors could plow on in forcing Maurice Saatchi's departure early this year in the face of clear signals from jumbo client Mars that to do so would likely mean the loss of a $400 million chunk of the candy maker's ad business? No question that the Mars brothers acted in a rash and vindictive fashion. And granted that Saatchi directors could not allow the Mars bar to be held too directly over their head. But with that kind of money at risk-roughly equivalent to one year's anticipated growth for the agency-wouldn't it seem prudent business practice for the Saatchi board to find a way to retain some kind of connection with Maurice and brother Charles? With $400 million at stake, it doesn't figure.

Another thing that doesn't figure on the scale of big league, cross-borders business is how 34-year-old Midwest money manager David Herro can seemingly have so much sway in the continuing unraveling of the once-mighty Saatchi & Saatchi empire. Mr. Herro, by his own account, is just a regular guy. Not long ago he told Advertising Age: "I'm a simple person.. I am thrilled by looking at a clown fish for an hour. I am thrilled by a good football game."

Yet at almost every turn of the Saatchi drama this year, Mr. Herro has seemingly played a pivotal role. Why has the Saatchi board been so accommodating to young Mr. Herro and the institutional investor interests for which he is the point man? Why couldn't Saatchi & Saatchi management have said an earnestly polite thanks for Herro & Co.'s financial advice, but then underscored that in the end the advertising business remains a relationship business? That advertising is at the heart of things a connections game, and that Maurice and Charles Saatchi still had plenty of them: the Mars brothers, British Airways, the Tory party and many more.

So what gives? The deeper we get into the Saatchi & Saatchi waters the murkier things become. From business drama, to melodrama, to English farce, all in two months? Could this happen only in the advertising business? We're afraid so, and that's what makes this sorry episode so tragic.

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