Saatchi: When the magic ended

The Saatchi brothers are, or were, the nearest thing advertising had to a royal family. Their indisputable achievements were surrounded by an aura of mystique and prestige, knowingly and assiduously cultivated by themselves. Like Bagehot’s celebrated dictum on royalty, they determined never to let daylight in on the magic for fear of dissolving it. And it worked. With the exception of Robert Jacoby, laughing audibly all the way to the bank with the $112m he had personally made out of the original Bates deal, there were few detractors to dent the panoply.

But the cost was isolation. No one, after the initial wonder years and with the exception of a few choice insiders and clients, actually understood what the Saatchi brothers did, as opposed to what they stood for. This didn’t matter very much until things got nasty around the bottom line and shareholders had the temerity to demand the Saatchis justify their gigantic remuneration packages. Of course, they couldn’t; not at least in any language that bean-counters would understand.

Any "magic" has now well and truly evaporated, helped, it has to be said, by the increasingly acrimonious public rows between Maurice Saatchi and his chief executive Charles Scott over the past year. The state of the ex-emperor’s new clothes remains to be gauged, as does the resilience of his devastated former domains.

What may be called the bean-counter’s revenge has one merit at least: we now know who is running the group. The plc name-change is also sensible. Maurice and Charles always had astigmatic vision where Charlotte Street was concerned. But the fact there is currently only one adman on the group board is surely madness. Word has it that Robert Louis-Dreyfus, whose role in recent events should not be underestimated, has been discreetly looking around for a successor chairman – as a kind of valedictory gesture. At the very least, Saatchi & Saatchi would be advised to elevate one or two of its luminaries – Bill Muirhead, Michael Bungey perhaps – to plc status.

As for Maurice, a galaxy of possibilities present themselves. The "nothing is impossible" at the bottom of his stinging farewell memo may, or may not, indicate that he and his brother will stage a buyout of the plc. Though where the money would come from is anyone’s guess. For now a consultancy role seems more likely.


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