Roberts Keeps Vow to Restaff General Mills Account From Outside

NEW YORK Saatchi & Saatchi on Wednesday made the first in what’s expected to be a string of hires to fill vacancies on its estimated $550 million General Mills account, two weeks after 17 creative and account staffers on the business quit en masse. Joining as svp, creative director is Pete Johnson, creative director at Time Warner’s Cartoon Network, the Publicis Groupe agency said.

Johnson, who starts April 4, spent a decade at Cartoon Network in Atlanta, beginning as an associate writer/producer in February 1995. Since then, he has held a variety of writing, production and creative direction roles.

At Saatchi, Johnson, 36, will report to New York chief creative officer Tony Granger. Johnson will work exclusively on General Mills.

A handful of other creative and account-side hires are in the works, with more appointments expected in the next week, said sources.

Last Friday, Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts said the openings would be filled through a combination of new hires, promotions and possibly the re-hiring of executives who quit. In a statement, Roberts said, “This has turned into a terrific opportunity to add even more talent to our General Mills business.”

Roberts said the former staffers had approached the agency, but other sources said Saatchi contacted them at the request of General Mills [Adweek, Feb. 28].

The executives quit on Feb. 14 and within a few days, signed letters of intent to join rival Interpublic Group, via a new standalone unit or an office of Campbell Mithun, a General Mills roster shop [Adweek, Feb. 21].

Last week, however, IPG went into a holding pattern while Saatchi and the executives explored the possibility of reconnecting.

The mass walkout came three days after Saatchi split with Mike Burns, worldwide account director on General Mills and a 25-year veteran of the agency. The circumstances, such as eight creatives submitting identical resignation letters in single envelope, created the perception that the exodus was orchestrated and sparked talk of business following the “Saatchi 17” out the door.

Since then, however, Roberts and his boss, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy, have asserted that all of Saatchi’s business is secure. The 17 executives represented roughly a third of the agency’s General Mills team and they worked on Big G cereals (Cheerios, Total, Wheaties, etc.), Yoplait yogurt and Betty Crocker fruit snacks (Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, etc.).