Mr. Saatchi moved his New Saatchi Agency into a bigger, more impressive London office especially for the presentation and pulled in two Publicis executives to fill out a team depleted by non-compete agreements with former employer Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.
In four days, three weary British Airways managers and one from Australia's Qantas Airways heard pitches from J. Walter Thompson Co., Bartle Bogle Hegarty, incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi and then New Saatchi Agency.
Mr. Saatchi finalized his needed international alliance in the 11th hour, announcing a non-equity partnership with French agency network Publicis the day the British Airways pitches started. He hooked up with an old acquaintance, Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy, at a time when Mr. Levy, embroiled in legal action against Publicis international partner True North Communications is looking for new opportunities.
"The deal with Saatchi has absolutely nothing to do with the [True North subsidiary] FCB situation," Mr. Levy said. "It was simply an opportunity for Publicis to continue developing its business along with Maurice Saatchi."
Although Publicis claims to be providing a worldwide network for New Saatchi to draw on, a True North spokesman said Publicis usually uses True North's Foote, Cone & Belding offices in Asia and Latin America to handle Publicis clients.
Mr. Levy sent a six-page letter March 29 to True North Chairman-CEO Bruce Mason complaining True North has impeded Publicis' international development.
The continuing arbitration process was initially triggered by Publicis' acquisition of French agency network FCA over FCB's objections. Last week, Publicis made a 13-D filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission in Washington detailing the company's grievances against FCB and True North. A 13-D filing is made when an adverse impact is possible on stock.
"It is clear to everyone that we were mistreated and that FCB made a major error," Mr. Levy said. "I believe that now FCB's attempt [to assert control] has been made and failed, FCB should admit its mistake, back up, and examine the ways we can operate together in the future."
A True North spokesman called Publicis' claims "totally unfounded."
True North and FCB are trying to stay clear of Publicis' ties with the New Saatchi Agency to avoid conflict problems with FCB client Northwest Airlines and Northwest's international partner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Hoping that British Airways will favor a U.K. shop, other agencies are playing up New Saatchi's French connection by dubbing Maurice's agency Nouvelle Saatchi.
Charles Siler contributed to this story.