Saatchi Intrigue Runs Wall to Wall

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Walls are going up and coming down at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.

In New York, recently appointed North American and New York CEO Bill Muirhead said he wants to "blow apart" Saatchi's monolithic bunker. And he means it.

In London, elusive agency founders Maurice and Charles Saatchi are walling themselves off from agency folk following the brothers' recent expulsion from their posh suites at Berkeley Square to more humble quarters at the shop's Charlotte Street office.

The brothers' seclusion coin cides with rampant speculation that the newly created revenue generating position at the holding company ultimately will go unfilled.

Saatchi agency executives in London and New York said they now believe the holding company job-billed as both a new-business post and an executive buffer between feuding Maurice Saatchi and Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chief Executive Charles Scott-is a turnoff to top contenders.

"There are still debates going on about whether this job is needed," said one executive, who speculated the holding company might eventually look within. "I believe the answer is that they still want to fill it. If you have a job and are willing to pay money, there will be people who are interested."

Meanwhile, back in New York, Mr. Muirhead believes rebuilding the agency should include a retooling of its vast, sterile Hudson Street headquarters, where hundreds of executives are bracing for the future as envisioned by Saatchi's fair-haired Australian.

"People walk around the building whispering to each other, and there are 700 people around," Mr. Muirhead said incredulously. North American Chief Operating Officer "Alan Bishop and I went in the 16th floor atrium at 11:30 one morning and screamed-really murderous screams-and no one came."

Walls will also go up, however.

Mr. Muirhead, whose salary is pegged at between $500,000 and $600,000, plans a ground-floor gallery similar to one in the U.K. offices to showcase modern art from Charles Saatchi's collection, renowned as one of the world's largest in private hands.

"I think it's great because advertising is art," Mr. Muirhead said. "In a thousand years' time they won't remember Saatchi the advertising agency. It will be like the Medicis; they'll remember the arts."

Does this showing of the flag indicate a renewed interest by the reclusive elder brother?

"Charles Saatchi works on British Airways campaigns and will help out elsewhere if I ask," said Mr. Muirhead, who's considered a favorite of both Charles and Maurice, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Co.

Two months into his job, Mr. Muirhead said his biggest surprise has been the size of ad budgets in the U.S. compared with the U.K.

"Maybe that's why advertising here is so conservative; there's so much at risk," Mr. Muirhead said.

Among his first priorities is to name a New York CEO, a post he assumed from Saatchi Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Harvey Hoffenberg. Also on his agenda is an effort to amalgamate the agency's old Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and Compton cultures by taking key executives away for a corporate bonding retreat. Those efforts somewhat mirror Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide CEO Michael Bungey's recent efforts.

Although Mr. Hoffenberg may leave the agency, it's uncertain whether Mr. Muirhead will look outside for a new creative director. Mr. Muirhead is said to favor promoting from within Saatchi, a practice in London where creative directors customarily come only from inside the agency and rarely meet clients.

While many insiders voice support for Mr. Muirhead, others are fearful of changes he will make. One insider estimated that at least 20 midlevel management executives have jumped Saatchi's New York ship in the past two months.

"It will not be the same agency within four months," said one defector. "It will be unrecognizable. But if I were a betting man, I'd bet that Muirhead will fix the problems."

Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Chairman-CEO Ed Wax's standing is expected to change to a more ambassadorial role if Mr. Muirhead is able to bolster North American operations. However, Maurice Saatchi called Mr. Wax "a key member of our management team" and said "talk of his being sidelined is complete nonsense."

"If I fail, they'll fire me, and I'm under no illusion," Mr. Muirhead said. "If I fail, I should be fired."

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