The sale of a majority stake to a multinational group has, paradoxically, allowed Saatchi & Saatchi SA to concentrate more on the local market, says CEO Gail Curtis.
France-based Publicis Groupe almost trebled its shareholding from 26% to 74% last year. The presence of one dominant shareholder, rather than a mix of foreign, local management and black economic empowerment partners, has allowed Saatchi to “reboot” and refocus its SA operations, says Curtis.
She says the change since deciding on a shift in strategic direction has been phenomenal.
“We took a long, hard look at the agency and said we would like to compete more locally. We want to be known for something significant in our local market while living up to being part of the most famous brand in global advertising.”
In the past six months Saatchi has added several new clients, including Eskom, Diageo, Sylko, Kalahari.net and additional brands from Procter & Gamble and Media24.
The group is also expanding its communications offerings. Besides ad agencies in Johannesburg and Cape Town, there are Tin Can Public Relations, digital agency At Play and recruitment advertising specialist Ayanda Mbanga Communications.
There have also been important appointments. These include Ayanda Mbanga as deputy group CEO, Helina Asefa as regional planning director, Michael Lawrence as head of strategy and Liam Wielopolski as regional executive creative director for Johannesburg and Africa.
“We’ve stayed away from a hierarchical structure,” says Curtis. “We removed traditional positions and top-down structures, ridding the office of traditionalists who were focused on process management and selling.
“We were looking for people who made the right cultural fit. These are people who can operate in what we call ‘the age of now’. It isn’t necessarily about digital media, but about faster turnaround speed and a bigger focus on strategy.”
Wielopolski says the reorganised group is able to produce creative campaigns quickly. He says Saatchi’s reorganisation meant that he “came into a clean slate and didn’t have to clean out departments. I’ve been able to take my time in finding the right creative people who have brought the right energy into the agency. We’ve got a good momentum going.”
Change has meant cutting staff and resigning some accounts. “Smaller accounts can demand the same resources as larger ones,” says Curtis. “You also have to be selective and ensure clients fit into the culture of the agency.”
She adds that growth is not just about seeking new clients. “We have to look at growing organically in areas such as shopper marketing and design.”