Just four months ago, "Maurice," as the British press loves to call him, was unceremoniously squeezed from the Saatchi & Saatchi Co. empire that he and his brother Charles founded in 1970 and built into one of the largest, most powerful agency groups in the world.
The loser in a who-blinks-first showdown with an alliance of powerful institutional investors who hold about a third of Saatchi's stock, Maurice found himself a man without an agency as the new year dawned.
But last week's stunning victory in capturing all of British Airways' $95 million account-a triumph that was the instant buzz of the ad business the world over-overnight put Maurice and his breakaway team at the New Saatchi Agency back into the inner circle of international ad world stars.
In just four months, his new agency has racked up $211 million in account wins, cost his old company another $400 million in billings that went elsewhere, and created a stir to rival the uproar he and his brother produced in the mid-1980s, when people joked they would soon own every agency in the world.
All this has happened even though so far not a single piece of major creative from the New Saatchi Agency has seen the light of day. Why the quick success? Mainly Maurice's knack for building and keeping relationships with the people who count.
Calling in all markers among his many well-connected business and political friends in the U.K. and beyond, Mr. Saatchi leaned on those important relationships and a reputation for creating the kind of attention-getting advertising that helped paint British Airways with the patina of a first-rate, global airline. Ironically, this review called specifically for no creative presentations, just strategy and logistics.
One high-ranking official at incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising told Advertising Age his agency's suspicions that the review was merely perfunctory were confirmed in part when British Airways Chairman Sir Colin Marshall arrived 20 minutes late for Saatchi's pitch.
"At that point, my worst fears were confirmed," the executive said. "I knew we wouldn't get it."
Sir Colin's friendship with Maurice-and his animosity toward Saatchi & Saatchi parent Cordiant for ousting Maurice as chairman last December-played a key role in the decision. In an unsurprising second punch, the agency also picked up the $35 million international account of Qantas Airways, the Australian carrier 25% owned by British Airways.
Sir Colin and candy magnate Forrest Mars had both urged the Saatchi board to keep Maurice. The decision to ignore those pleas has proved costly, with the loss first of $400 million in Mars Inc. spending for Saatchi and sister agency Bates Worldwide, and now British Airways.
New Saatchi was given a one-year contract, indicating some British Airways executives don't share Sir Colin's enthusiasm for Maurice. And Bartle Bogle Hegarty, by all accounts, finished a strong second in the first account review ever that London bookies took odds on.
"BA went back and forth between the agencies, asking questions about campaigns, looking for clarification of details, etc.," said Maurice Levy, chairman of Paris-based Publicis, which is providing international support for New Saatchi on the British Airways account. "This went on for some time .... People who think this account was given as a gift to Maurice are wrong."
After Maurice took the victory phone call May 2, the agency celebrated with a few bottles of tepid champagne. Someone fetched beer. Thirty New Saatchi staffers soon adjourned-by now minus Maurice-to the trendy Atlantic Bar & Grill in Piccadilly, a few blocks from the bigger offices New Saatchi will move into next month in Kingly Street. The office Maurice rented in January is bursting at the seams, with some of the staffers without desks and background noise getting so loud that it sounds like a permanent party to callers.
For now, it appears Maurice has plucked most of the accounts he's likely to get from his old company. Saatchi's London office still has more than $800 million in billings, including a significant amount of Procter & Gamble Co. business that Maurice is unlikely to snatch away.
But that's not to say Maurice won't be able to use his contacts and chutzpah to continue raking in business. This is, after all, the man who bulldozed his first employer, Haymarket Publishing, into doubling the annual salary he was being offered because he had an expensive car to maintain.
His connections with the Conservative Party are extensive. Maurice and his brother won the account back in 1978, and created the "Labor isn't working" 1979 election ad showing a queue of people in the unemployment line that helped sweep Margaret Thatcher and her party into power.
The resulting Tory connections are so strong that knighthood for Maurice seems inevitable. And then come the social connections of wife Josephine Hart, whose best-selling novel "Damage" was made into a movie.
The couple's luxurious Old Hall estate in Sussex was the subject of a major piece in Architectural Digest in January, one of the irritants that sent shareholders over the edge.
The fact that the leader of those shareholders is an American has helped fuel public and private support for Maurice. Chicago-based Harris Associates partner David Herro has been vilified in the U.K. press as "The Herro from zero" and "Herro the villain."
Mr. Herro last week remained circumspect. "BA marks the end of the dramatics," he said. "The company can now go on about getting more business."
But for all Mr. Herro's talk of moving on, the Saatchi saga has been followed with great interest even by those outside advertising. The British Airways shift was a top item on U.K. prime-time newscasts and broadcast as far away as local radio in San Francisco. U.K. trade magazine Campaign last week carried no less than nine stores about the two Saatchi shops.
There's a definite aura associated with the 48-year-old son of Iraqi-born immigrants.
Despite half a dozen lawsuits hanging over him and his new partners, Maurice has been able to build his agency, blissfully free of shareholders and any responsibility for Saatchi & Saatchi's debt. The only courtroom action so far has left him completely free of restrictions and placed limited constraints on three of his future partners.
From day one, Maurice's every move has packed a major public relations punch even though he rarely utters a public word except in prepared speeches to carefully chosen groups.
When a visiting Advertising Age editor requested a brief meeting, Mr. Saatchi demurred politely that he's "keeping a low profile."
But, of course, his legend has a life of its own. Said one veteran ad world observer: "He certainly leads a charmed life, doesn't he?"
Iris Cohen Selinger in New York and Alice Z. Cuneo in San Francisco contributed to this story.
Here's a listing of New Saatchi Agency's wins, and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's gains and losses, this year:
New Saatchi Agency
Client Spending agency
British Airways $95 million Saatchi
Dixons consumer electronics $48 million Saatchi
Qantas (international) $35 million Saatchi
Gallaher Silk Cut cigarettes $19 million Saatchi
Mirror Group Newspapers $13 million Saatchi
Private Patient Plan $1 million None
Total New Saatchi gains: $211 million
Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising
Losses: In addition to the above losses, the agency lost British
Telecom's $11 million global account to Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, and $25 million in Mars business.
Gains: The agency has picked up the $38 million Comet consumer
electronics retail account; $68 million in new business from existing clients; and $48 million by buying Laing Henry, London.
Net 1995 Saatchi & Saatchi loss: $92 million