SAATCHI HIMSELF ISN'T KEY TO AGENCY'S GLOBAL FUTURE BUT DEPARTING LINE EXECS CAN HURT THE BOTTOM LINE

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LONDON-Maurice Saatchi's defection from the agency that bears his name actually appears to have had little impact on Saatchi & Saatchi Co.'s global fortunes. Instead, it's the departure of key Saatchi executives that could imperil the agency's international outposts.

Already, the resignation of key executives has resulted in BritishAirways, a $135 million account handled in 47 countries, saying it will put its business up for review in four months when its contract with the agency expires. And while Saatchi client Procter & Gamble, a $155 million business in the U.S. alone, has given the agency a vote of confidence, it's possible that a domino effect could result with other clients as other executives follow Mr. Saatchi out the door.

Concern over Mr. Saatchi himself leaving was key in M&M/-Mars, for example, putting up for review its $350 million account. But his leaving meant much less to the agency's international outposts, which the former Saatchi chairman rarely visited. Mr. Saatchi instead had most of his dealings inside the U.S. or the U.K.

That's because fully half of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's gross income of $638.8 million in 1993 came from the U.S. and about one-fifth-$126 million-was from the U.K. For Bates Worldwide, one-third of its gross income of $543.9 million in 1993 originated in the U.S. and $71.1 million in the U.K.

While Saatchi & Saatchi Co. has capabilities in 60 offices around the world, including such far-flung markets as Kuala Lumpur, El Salvador and Dubai, the agency isn't considered as international in scope as many others.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide, for example, has capabilities in 75 offices and is the No. 1 shop in Latin America with gross income of $150 million as compared with Saatchi's No. 12 status. In Asia, McCann is the third largest shop with $198.8 million in gross income, as compared with No. 18 Saatchi and No. 11 Bates. And in Europe, McCann's $372.4 million puts it at No. 3 as compared with No. 11 Saatchi and No. 13 Bates (see accompanying chart).

Most of Saatchi's major clients' headquarters, such as P&G and BA, are in the U.S. or U.K.

Saatchi's woes started when shareholder pressure led the agency's board of directors to demote Maurice Saatchi Dec. 16 from his job as company chairman, remove him from the board of directors and cancel his lucrative new stock option plan. Mr. Saatchi quit shortly thereafter, as did seven loyal executives. Last week, he announced the formation of the New Saatchi Agency, to be completed in a few months, a time-not coincidentally-close to the BA review.

But the first real client loss started being felt when Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising North America CEO Bill Muirhead, Saatchi & Saatchi London Chairman David Kershaw, Acting Chairman Jeremy Sinclair and BA worldwide account director Moray MacLennan (also Saatchi joint managing director) left. Those men were closest to the BA account. Nick Hurrell, also joint managing director, and two creative directors, James Lowther and Simon Dicketts, also left last week.

Before the latest defections, the BA business seemed unlikely to move.

BA's Head of Marketing Michael Batt, for example, emphasized that Mr. Saatchi was part of a team that the airline valued.

There are 60 Saatchi staffers in London alone on BA now.

More attributable to Mr. Saatchi is the review of M&M/Mars, handled mainly by Bates in more than 40 countries, that might result in at least a brand or two being moved.

But while some local clients bailed out, there was little sign of unrest among international accounts.

Danone Group, DHL, Fuji Photo Film, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo have not indicated they have a strong preference for Mr. Saatchi. But defections are still unfolding.

Outside the U.K., for the troops who never saw him, the news that Mr. Saatchi is gone is sad, but "He's been outside the operation for many years now; his decision to leave won't affect us," said Fabio Fernandes, president-creative director, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Sao P√Ćulo.

In Germany, Mr. Saatchi received less attention than new Managing Director Hubertus von Lobenstein, one of three admen from Hamburg agency Springer & Jacoby who left to join Saatchi's German shop this month.

Dagmar Mussey and Claudia Penteado contributed to this story.

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