FREEDOM PAYS OFF FOR SAATCHI: SAATCHI & SAATCHI -- AGENCY RATING: 3 STARS

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Saatchi & Saatchi rang in 1998 with its independence from former holding company Cordiant. The separation, along with the jelling of a relatively new North American management team, seems to have served the agency well. Over the course of the year, Saatchi reeled in more than 20 new North American assignments, worth an estimated $300 million in billings, and gained existing business from Procter & Gamble Co., General Mills and Johnson & Johnson. Saatchi also branched out into new categories by claiming such accounts as Beck's, Provident, Tag Heurer, Snap! and Avery.

The agency did lose about $45 million worth of business with the departures of Pepperidge Farm and Hewlett-Packard's personal computer accounts.

Creative improved-taking on an edgier appearance in cases like Beck's-under the eye of Creative Director Tod Seisser, who succeeded Stan Becker.

LOOKING AHEAD

Watch for Saatchi to replace the cookie and cracker business with a new food client in 1999. Speaking of food, also look for the agency to bring in

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