M&C SAATCHI BACK ON MARS;AGENCY CAPTURES CREATIVE PROJECT FOR THE U.K. RELAUNCH OF WHISKAS

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[london] Maurice Saatchi has a foot back in the door of major international advertiser Mars Inc., with a key pet food assignment for his M&C Saatchi Agency.

Mars is the U.S.-based marketer so devoted to Mr. Saatchi that it punished Cordiant for ousting him as chairman last year by firing Cordiant's Bates Worldwide and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide units from $375 million in confectionery and pet food business.

WHISKAS CREATIVE

Mars made Mr. Saatchi's new agency wait a year, but has assigned the London shop "creative development" for the relaunch of Whiskas. The cat food brand's U.K. ad budget is about $15 million a year.

D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles will continue to manage the Whiskas account worldwide, including the U.K.

"What we're looking for from Maurice is some of his creative input and excellent expertise," said Michael Jenkins, external relations manager for Pedigree Petfoods, Mars' U.K. pet food division. "We don't know exactly what he will be involved in. He needs to look at the communications aspects of the brand."

Whiskas, with European sales of $790 million, is being challenged by U.K. food group Dalgety's rival Felix brand.

DALGETY CHALLENGES MARS

Last year, Dalgety became the second-largest company in the $7.7 billion European pet food market after buying Quaker Oats Co.'s European pet food business, including Felix.

According to industry figures disputed by Mars, Felix edged past Whiskas for the first time in U.K. grocery stores in March with a 25.2% share of cat food sales by volume compared to Mars' 25%.

M&C Saatchi is expected to mastermind a TV and print campaign for Whiskas to break this fall, replacing cat owner testimonial advertising.

In early 1995, Mr. Saatchi was a catalyst but not a contender in Mars' agency review.

Mars Chairman and Co-President Forrest Mars had warned Cordiant, then called Saatchi & Saatchi Co., against ousting Mr. Saatchi, with whom he has a close relationship. Mr. Saatchi finally left in January 1995. Mars began reviewing its account, fired the Cordiant shops and assigned the business to BBDO Worldwide, adding the shop to the Mars roster; and two Mars agencies, DMB&B and Grey Advertising.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

At the time, Mr. Saatchi was embroiled in legal disputes with his former employer.

That he has now wangled a major assignment from Mars underscores Mr. Saatchi's ability to forge and maintain high-level personal relationships, since Mars previously worked with Bates on pet food rather than with the Saatchi staffers Mr. Saatchi plucked for his new agency.

Mars wouldn't say if the assignment might lead to business outside the U.K., but observers said the brand choice is significant.

"We're simply picking up a relationship with Maurice that we've enjoyed for a long time," Mr. Jenkins said.

Separately, M&C Saatchi's biggest client, British Airways, this month is renewing its one-year contract for its $90 million worldwide account.

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