AS THE SAATCHI PR WAR TURNS MAURICE BEGINS TO LOSE SPEED, BUT DON'T COUNT HIM OUT YET

By Published on .

LONDON-Maurice Saatchi may at least temporarily be running out of ammunition in his tempestuous public relations battle with his former company.

Last week, Saatchi & Saatchi Co.'s counterpunches seemed to be getting stronger and faster, though Mr. Saatchi could easily be back on top. That could be accomplished if Mr. Saatchi wins some clients or if his brother Charles, still employed by Saatchi & Saatchi Co., switches to the New Saatchi Agency.

Still, the U.K. media are betting on Mr. Saatchi. The Sunday Telegraph dubbed Mr. Saatchi's shareholder nemesis, David Herro, "The Herro from zero"; others call him "Herro the villain."

Being American doesn't help the Harris Associates partner's cause. Nor does it stop Mr. Herro from being featured in the U.K.'s countless contests to rename Saatchi.

Last week, Saatchi looked tough when it filed a second breach of contract suit, this time in the U.S. in New York's Supreme Court, against former Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising North America CEO Bill Muirhead for $50 million.

The agency scored with a clever page newspaper ad in The Sunday Times Jan. 15 featuring excerpts from resignation memos sent to staff by the top executives who left. The ad featured laudatory phrases like "it means leaving the most outstandingly talented, committed and successful people ever assembled in advertising." The headline, cheeky and quintessentially Saatchi: "The first advertisement created by the people who've just left Saatchi & Saatchi."

Thanks to the agency's PR comeback, "I think the tide of opinion is beginning to run against [Mr. Saatchi]," said one U.K. advertising executive. "The hype was brilliant. Now he has to move on."

Mr. Saatchi's biggest PR misstep may have been with British Airways. Not content with hiring the top Saatchi executives closest to the $135 million account and provoking a review, he had Saatchi's whole British Airways team over to his home Jan. 12 to persuade them to defect. Since the airline is counting on Saatchi to continue servicing the account smoothly during the remaining four months of its contract, the client wasn't pleased.

"When [British Airways Managing Director] Robert Ayling discovered that the team was going to walk out, he was furious," one Saatchi executive said of the incident.

In the end, only three of the 30 people still on the account resigned.

One of Mr. Saatchi's big advantages is no one knows where he will strike next.

"Underestimating Maurice is a big mistake, and every time anyone has done it, he has proven them wrong," said an ad industry insider. "In December he was fired; now he's writing the agenda.'

In this article:
Most Popular