The former Saatchi vice chairman made headlines in early 2005 when he quit and was followed out the door three days later by what came to be known as the Saatchi 17. Today, the group operates as OneSeven, a young agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., and Mr. Burns, who has settled a lawsuit with Saatchi over the matter, last week signed on as operating chairman.
Terms of the settlement between Mr. Burns and Saatchi are confidential, but all legal claims and disputes between the two parties are resolved.
Saatchi, an agency network owned by Publicis Groupe, in March 2005 sued Mr. Burns in Supreme Court of the State of New York, charging him with violating his fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty; breaching restrictive contractual covenants; and wrongfully interfering with contractual relations while an employee of Saatchi.
The agency sought more than $3 million in damages and asked the court to bar Mr. Burns from launching a company or taking a job with any advertising, marketing or communications firm that conducted business with General Mills, the account Mr. Burns handled while at Saatchi.
Mr. Burns countersued in May, 2005, at the same time he asked the court to dismiss the agency's complaint.
The court in January 2006 denied Mr. Burns' motion to dismiss but also ruled that he was free to work in advertising and marketing, as well as on General Mills business. Mr. Burns then began consulting for OneSeven, launched in spring 2005 by his notorious former colleagues.
As OneSeven's operating chairman, Mr. Burns, 48, is a partner to agency CEO Anne Adriance. The two former Saatchi colleagues have worked closely since 1980 on General Mills as well as other accounts. Working with a staff of 30 mostly senior creatives and account managers, the duo aims to build OneSeven's client roster, which now includes ConAgra's Hebrew National, Dunn & Bradstreet, Educate and McGraw Hill's BusinessWeek.
"We're a startup staffed by executives each with a decade or more of leading major brands," Ms. Adriance said. One of the young agency's differentiating factors, she maintains, is its structure. "We're execution-agnostic. We're interested in the idea and the strategic insight."
"It's an incredible opportunity to create the agency of the future," said Mr. Burns. "We're built around one premise: to aid and abet brand leadership. We're designed for collaboration." He said that research conducted for Interpublic showed that many agencies are too slow to market, are not offering clients holistic ideas, and are not great collaborators. OneSeven is intended to address those inadequacies.