MAURICE SAATCHI'S WRECKING BALL

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Maurice Saatchi almost wrecked the advertising agency business once; now he appears about to do it again.

He changed the business forever in the 1980s when Saatchi & Saatchi bought up a bunch of fine old independent U.S. agencies-Compton Advertising, William Esty Co., Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, Campbell-Mithun, Ted Bates & Co.-and took on massive debt commensurate with his ego to build an advertising and consulting services empire.

On his way to the top, however, it was the underpinning of the agency business-the confidence of advertisers in the agency "partnership"-that was left in tatters.

His 1986 purchase of Bates became an angry exclamation point in advertising history. Millions of dollars were showered on Bates' managers/stockholders for selling out to Saatchi (Bates CEO Bob Jacoby alone received $112 million). But clients erupted in a furor that has not subsided to this day.

Because of deals such as this, agencies were seen as willing to sell their account rosters to the highest bidder, or merge with agency rivals, no matter their supposed loyalties to clients. That single act by Bates and Saatchi-in which Bob Jacoby sold stock that had been passed from one generation of Bates management to another-helped break apart a client-agency relationship refined over many years. Ever since, agencies face being treated as just another supplier, and the mutual trust between them and their clients has yet to return.

Moreover, the string of ad agencies Mr. Saatchi acquired was upsized, downsized, combined and dismantled-to the point where the traditions and stability of the business no longer existed.

It is absolutely ludicrous that this man now wants to start all over again-threatening the stability of Saatchi & Saatchi Co. in the process. It's even more ludicrous that some Saatchi & Saatchi Co. employees and even a few clients may follow him to his next adventure.

Can you imagine anything like this happening in another business? A head of a company makes a huge mess of one venture, pursuing ill-conceived diversification and along the way acquiring enough debt to sink the Titanic. Then he leaves in a huff and follows a course that could have serious consequences for the company he built and the employees and beleaguered shareholders whose trust he once enjoyed.

Is it any wonder that the role of advertising itself has suffered in the intervening years? Why should clients take the advice of agencies that can't even keep their own houses in order?

We abhor what Maurice Saatchi has done and what he seems determined to do now by starting this new agency. We urge the current management at Saatchi & Saatchi Co. to protect its rights with every legal means at its disposal. Further, we strongly urge Saatchi clients to avoid another dangerous and bumpy ride on the wild side at the "new" Saatchi.

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