Can Senior’s team revive Saatchi in London?

robertseniorIt was this time last year that Publicis Groupe announced a mini-structure for the Saatchi & Saatchi network: SSF, an alliance headed by Saatchi’s worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts and the founding partner of Fallon, Robert Senior, who became the chief executive of the group in the UK.

There was almost an inevitability about such a structure after Saatchi & Saatchi in London dropped off the top ten agency list for the first time in three decades and lost its chief executive Lee Daley after only two years. Despite knocking on the doors of the “great and the good” in the UK and beyond, for a long time it signally failed to find a replacement for Daley.

The idea of the new structure was for the failing agency brand in the UK to lean on the successful Fallon shop in London and vice-versa in the US, where Fallon had suffered huge client losses.

A year on, the jury is still out on whether the partnership can restore Saatchi to its former glory. Critics suggest clients “have failed to notice Fallon sprinkle its magic dust on its doors”. Not least because SSF was unable to stem some high profile losses, including the £80m Sony Ericsson business to McCann Erickson early this year and the bulk of the domestic Toyota business to CHI & Partners. Saatchi has since lost Standard Life, after winning rival company Axa’s £15m advertising account ( July 29), and Barclays Capital.

One man for the job?
“Sorting out the London office, the emotional heart of the Saatchi network, is a complex problem. And, if that is not working, I don’t see how one man [Senior], with his feet in both camps, can sort out the problem,” says a candidate approached to replace Daley. Another adds: “This mini-network is essentially Kevin Roberts’ idea and Senior’s heart is still at Fallon, which is the reason why the industry remains unconvinced that it can work.”

Fans of Senior argue that he has been busy “hiring talent”. They say he ended up as acting managing director of the London agency while the drawn-out search for a permanent replacement was going on. The search ended with the appointment of Michael Rebelo three months ago.

“I was hired for the turnaround job because, genetically, I’m never satisfied,” says Senior. “It’s all about long-term goals.” He adds that SSF-UK will “soon” show tangible results. “We are in the talent business and that is what the clients will be buying into – the power of certainty, but from two very different agencies.”

Fallon, under managing partner Laurence Green, continues to stoke industry adulation and envy. He says that the agency will have much bigger opportunities under the new mini-group. “We have been wilfully independent for a very long time. But via Robert [Senior] we have much more visibility in the group’s plans and priorities and that is brilliant,” says Green. The agency has been on some of the most coveted pitch lists this year, including Halifax and Camelot.

Team selection
Away from Fallon, Senior at Saatchi & Saatchi London has been hard at work putting his squad in place. He has hired Paul Silburn, formerly of Fallon Minneapolis, as a creative partner to head the agency’s creative department alongside Kate Stanners; Richard Huntington, the former United planning director, as director of strategy; and Rebelo as managing director. The SSF UK team boasts of another member, besides Senior – Spencer Livermore, the former director of political strategy for the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Labour Party was one of Senior’s most high-profile wins.

“Great names, all, but untried and untested as a team together,” says another senior suit. One agency chief thinks the one “great saviour” for the London agency could be network veteran Rebelo. Formerly of Saatchi Singapore, he has previously worked at Saatchi Australia and New Zealand.

The Observatory’s Stuart Pocock says: “Within the industry there may be question marks about it but, in the client fraternity, the Saatchi brand name continues to cut the mustard.” The pressure on Saatchi & Saatchi to succeed both as a brand and a business has just become that much more intense.

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