Chief executives say the funniest things. Just three months ago Saatchi & Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts claimed the agency would never ‘sell out’. Roberts would not surrender his vision of a ‘global creative boutique’, and there were no discussions taking place with Grey – or any other agency – as Saatchi wanted to be in control of its own destiny.
This week, Saatchi’s senior management has duly agreed to a bid from French agency Publicis in a deal valuing Saatchi at more than &£1.3bn and creating a group with combined billings of over &£6.3bn. Some believe that in his previous statements, Roberts was playing a game of hard to get in an attempt to bolster the sale price.
Another agency chief executive says of Publicis chairman Maurice Levy’s role in the Saatchi acquisition: ‘Maurice Levy doesn’t have a grand plan other than to be grand.’ This statement could be applied to any of the other agency bosses who are considering mergers.
The deal just about wraps up the game of global agency consolidation, leaving the second rank of players to fight over the scraps. Following WPP’s pounce on Young & Rubicam just six weeks ago, there are few potential partners left – Havas, owner of Euro RSCG and WCRS; Grey, the eternal partner but never the bride; Bates, divorced from Saatchi; and True North, which failed to make a link with Publicis work. Expect the last spurt of consolidation soon.
One view has it that Grey could make an audacious attempt to subvert the Saatchi/Publicis deal by putting in a hostile counter-bid for Saatchi. The received wisdom is that Procter & Gamble – whose accounts make up a large slug of Saatchi’s profits and a good deal of Grey’s – has encouraged its agencies to combine forces. Thus Leo Group and MacManus formed BCom3, with a stake going to Dentsu. It seems unlikely that P&G would want an unseemly scrap for Saatchi involving Grey, another of its great global networks.
Which brings us to Alan Lafley, P&G’s new chief executive, who has been in the job just two weeks since he took over from the ousted Durk Jager. Lafley claims he will be making only the slightest of tweaks to the recovery programme put in place by Jager. ‘Even with a few stumbles,’ says Lafley, this year will provide all-time record profits. And rumours of disposals of chunks of P&G’s business are apparently ‘rubbish’.
Which begs the question of why the seismic shift of Jager’s departure was needed in the first place. P&G and Saatchi are companies locked in a symbiotic relationship. They both stand at a crossroads. Let us hope, for their sakes, that their chief executives can make comments which are not palpably proved false within weeks of their utterance.