Brit Managers Invade Saatchi U.S. Agencies

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The British are coming! The British are coming!

Saatchi & Saatchi Co. is orchestrating a management transfusion of its two largest U.S. agencies in a dramatic attempt to bolster lackluster operations.

Seven London-based senior executives have been dispatched from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide to New York headquarters in recent months.

"Whatever they've been doing before hasn't worked very well, so this is another attempt," said James Dougherty, a Dean Witter Reynolds analyst. Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chief Executive "Charlie Scott is quite upset with the performance of the U.S. He said last year he would get more involved in the U.S. operations. This is a manifestation of that. Whether it will work, I don't have a clue."

Many of Saatchi's biggest global clients are U.S.-based, and the majority are in New York, accounting for the parent company's keen interest. Saatchi's U.S. core-agency billings in 1992 were off 3.1% to $1.85 billion; Backer's were off 9.4% to $976 million.

At Saatchi, additional reinforcements are expected under Bill Muirhead, a career Saatchi executive and Australian recently appointed ceo of the agency's North American operations. He has already tapped Alan Bishop, a vice chairman of Saatchi's London agency, for relocation to New York.

"He'll be helping me review the business [in New York] and in North America," Mr. Muirhead said. "He'll be like my shadow."

Although U.S. agencies have exported top brass to London for years, Saatchi's British invasion marks the first time London-based companies have orchestrated a management takeover of their own U.S. shops. Underscoring that effort, Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chairman Maurice Saatchi plans for the first time to take a New York office.

"I don't give a rat about what other agencies are doing," said Ed Wax, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide chairman-ceo. "We've been bringing Brits back and forth very quietly for years. It's not a new phenomenon. What is new is that it's at an executive level."

While the shifts are said to be driven by Mr. Scott, Mr. Wax, who said he expected additional transplants, stressed the changes aren't part of a "master plan" by the holding company.

Other agency insiders disagree, noting Mr. Scott has had a hand in many of the shifts and has said they will be reversed if North American agency fortunes don't improve.

Although the parent company faces financial turmoil as well as growing antipathy between Mr. Scott and Mr. Saatchi, Saatchi and Backer's BSB Dorland agencies are ranked first- and third-largest, respectively, in the U.K.

Hoping to duplicate his success at London's BSB Dorland, Michael Bungey, ceo of BSB Worldwide and chairman of BSB Inc. and the Americas Region, summoned Andrew Cracknell to New York as vice chairman-executive creative director of BSB Inc. and executive creative director of BSB Worldwide late last year. Mr. Cracknell remains vice chairman-executive creative director of BSB Dorland.

Planner Les Stern was named U.S. exec VP-account planning director, and Roy Powell has joined Backer to evaluate operations and finances.

Management shifts are under way in Backer's financial department. Mel Epstein, exec VP-finance and administration, is leaving and insiders say there will be a second major shift with a replacement coming from the U.K. or Europe.

"Every time we turn around, there's another Brit coming over," groused one U.S.-based Backer insider.

Still another, Derrick Southon, chairman of Zenith Media in the U.K. and chief executive of Zenith Europe, is on loan to the U.S., evaluating media departments.

"It is a British-owned company, and when things get tight, I think it's natural for people to feel more comfortable with their own countrymen and cultures," said Bill Backer, retired vice chairman-worldwide executive creative director at Backer Spielvogel Bates. "In my opinion, if there are any mistakes being made, it's in the changes being made in the financial department. They're alarming because they smack of power rather than the filling of vacuums."

Mr. Bungey couldn't be reached for comment. But Mr. Cracknell, who said he once feared an agency "backlash" against the British invasion, said there has been none.

Said Chappaqua, N.Y.-based consultant Richard Roth: "People are watching with a smirk. Why should these guys be able to do it? What do they bring to the party that isn't here in the States? Are they that much better at advertising or [do they] just own the stocks?"

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