M&C SAATCHI BA AD NEARS TAKEOFF

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LONDON-In the most important 60 seconds yet for Maurice Saatchi's M&C Saatchi Agency, its first British Airways global TV commercial breaks Jan. 5.

British Airways spends about $1 million in production costs to make a high-profile TV spot every two years that runs around the world to enhance the carrier's global branding.

While the creative work is, as usual, a closely guarded secret, there's added suspense this year. M&C Saatchi has to prove British Airways was right to fire Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and entrust its $90 million worldwide account to an agency so new that Mr. Saatchi had to borrow a conference room for his pitch to the airline last spring.

British Airways signed only a one-year contract in May with M&C Saatchi after a hard-fought review that Bartle Bogle Hegarty came close to winning. Since then, Sir Colin Marshall, the British Airways chairman-chief executive who forced the review and is a fan of Mr. Saatchi, has announced plans to retire this year. He's being succeeded as chief executive by Robert Ayling, who was group managing director.

This week also opens up new business opportunities for M&C Saatchi. A one-year agreement Mr. Saatchi made with Saatchi & Saatchi parent Cordiant, who fired him as the holding company's chairman, not to steal any more Saatchi clients or staff in 1995 has expired. M&C Saatchi has already taken the most vulnerable Saatchi & Saatchi clients, and wants to become a formidable competitor that can win business anywhere.

One year after Maurice and Charles Saatchi secretly signed an agreement with three top Saatchi & Saatchi executives to open the new agency, M&C Saatchi claims billings of close to $300 million.

Last month, M&C Saatchi added the $20 million U.S. account of Australia's Qantas Airways, partly owned by British Airways, to the international Qantas business the agency already handles. Also last month, M&C Saatchi was assigned a new corporate image campaign in the U.S. and the U.K. for pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome.

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