The founders of M&C Saatchi wanted to reunite with their old agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, and spoke several times to its parent company, Publicis Groupe, about a possible merger or tie-up between the two Saatchi agencies, Campaign can reveal.
The informal conversations happened on a number of occasions at least several years ago, including in around 2017, although the exact timings are unclear.
Both Jeremy Sinclair, the chairman of M&C Saatchi, and Maurice Saatchi, an executive director of M&C Saatchi until December 2019, spoke to Maurice Lévy, who was chief executive of Publicis Groupe until June 2017 and is now chairman of its supervisory board.
One of M&C Saatchi's ideas was a joint venture between the two Saatchi agencies, according to Sinclair.
He said: “I certainly had conversations with Maurice [Levy] a couple of years ago. But it partly went nowhere because he, at the time, was very reluctant to let go of anything he had.”
It is thought the conversations never went beyond informal chats. Companies will often talk to each other about deal-making but not hold formal discussions because there is no prospect of agreement.
The revelations are contained in the September print issue of Campaign, which carries an interview with Sinclair and the two other remaining co-founders, Bill Muirhead and David Kershaw, to mark the 50th anniversary of Saatchi & Saatchi and 25th anniversary of M&C Saatchi.
A merger would have been a sensational way to reunite the two agencies and end a now 25-year split.
Muirhead, an executive director of M&C Saatchi, said: “The great dream would have been to put the two companies back together and just have one name and to have it in its former glory – combined.”
He added he still held out hope that “sometime in the future, maybe in my dreams, there would be a coming back together with the same spirit and new people”.
Charles and Maurice Saatchi announced the launch of Saatchi & Saatchi on the front page of Campaign on 11 September 1970 and built it into a global agency giant, before investors pushed them out, and the brothers broke away with Sinclair, Muirhead and Kershaw to set up M&C Saatchi in 1995.
M&C Saatchi went on to have a fierce rivalry with Saatchi & Saatchi, which was acquired by Publicis Groupe.
However, relations improved and the two agencies had a joint anniversary party in September 2010 at Charles Saatchi’s Gallery, which was attended by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s most famous clients.
Publicis Groupe went on to buy a 75% stake in Walker Media, the media-buying subsidiary of M&C Saatchi, in 2013 and bought out the remaining 25% shareholding in 2019.
However, a potential tie-up between M&C Saatchi and Saatchi & Saatchi would have been more complex unless it involved a straightforward acquisition by one company.
Publicis Groupe launched its “Power of One” strategy in 2015 that brought together all its different agency disciplines for clients in each country; that would make it difficult to create a joint venture with M&C Saatchi, according to Ian Whittaker, a media analyst, who worked at investment bank Liberum Capital until earlier this year.
“If you’d asked me, before knowing about these talks, what do you think the chances are [of some kind of merger, before last year’s accounting irregularities at M&C Saatchi], I would have said a possibility, not a probability,” Whittaker said. “It was hard to see how it would fit into Publicis’ ‘one country’ strategy.”
M&C Saatchi made £11.6m of accounting adjustments last year and is awaiting clearance from auditors to publish its revised 2018 accounts.
Both Charles and Maurice Saatchi have ceased to be involved in M&C Saatchi but Sinclair, Muirhead and Kershaw remain as executive directors.
Sinclair has worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and then M&C Saatchi since the launch in 1970, Muirhead since 1972 and Kershaw since 1982.