Beleaguered M&C Saatchi needs to act fast to get out of this mess

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

The departure of its chief executive and chief creative officer destabilises an already unsettled ship.

Well, what a bloody mess. It goes without saying that first thoughts must go to individuals at M&C Saatchi London who have sadly lost their jobs in the week before Christmas – a brutal blow indeed.

Among them are its chief executive Giles Hedger and chief creative officer Justin Tindall. They say that their decision to fall on the sword and take voluntary redundancy that was on offer following the loss of NatWest was the "honourable" thing to do. If true, these intentions were undoubtedly good. 

But, in reality, they probably had little choice – someone needed to take the blame for the loss of this key account and ultimately the responsibility stops with them. It is to their credit, however, that their sacrifice, it is understood, has helped keep redundancy levels down to around the 20 mark – which, while sizeable, is at the lower end of the agency’s expectations.

The whole redundancy process, led by worldwide chief executive Moray MacLennan and chairman Tim Duffy, is expected to be completed by Christmas. But, again, this is little consolation for those who now find themselves without jobs and for whom the festive break won’t be a time for celebration and where cheer might be in rather short supply.

For M&C Saatchi Group, the news couldn’t have come at a worse time, given that it has also been beset by an accountancy scandal and the departure of its totemic founder Lord Saatchi and the non-executive directors. Misery is piled upon misery.

For those who are leaving Golden Square for the last time this week, it would be perfectly understandable if they wanted to draw a line under the whole sorry saga and never think about the agency again. But for those who still work there – as well as its clients and shareholders – there will need to be reassurance that the agency can successfully emerge from this mess. 

So what are its chances? It is believed that the new structure for the agency will be unveiled in just a few weeks, in January – suggesting that MacLennan and Duffy are well on their way with plans for the replacement of Hedger and Tindall. This might seem like action being taken at almost indecent haste (or that they had already developed a succession plan) and that the new faces might not be so new after all – insiders say they are expected to promote from within. It would also make strategic sense to integrate the under-performing Lida within the new operation.

But firm and fast action is essential to show that they are managing this sorry episode, particularly given how the accountancy mess – which is unrelated – was allowed to drift unnoticed for so long.

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign

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