Saatchi Sues Burns

NEW YORK Hours after Interpublic Group confirmed that it had hired the 17 creative and account executives who quit Saatchi & Saatchi three weeks ago, Saatchi on Friday afternoon filed a civil lawsuit against Mike Burns, the former worldwide account director on General Mills and onetime supervisor of the 17 who walked out.

The 14-page suit, filed in state Supreme Court in New York, seeks at least $3 million in damages on claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of the duty of loyalty. It also requests an injunction to bar Burns from “directly or indirectly launching any company or taking employment with any advertising, marketing or communications company that services” General Mills or “soliciting, communicating and/or advising Saatchi’s client, GMI, as well as any other client or prospective client of the company.”

In a brief statement, the Publicis Groupe agency confirmed that it was suing Burns but declined further comment.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Tom Morino of Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller in New York, also declined comment, as did Burns, when reached at home. Burns split with Saatchi on Feb. 11, three days before the Saatchi 17 left en masse, creating the impression that he had orchestrated the walkout.

This week, IPG hired the 17 and created a standalone unit for most of them to pitch brands related to youth, family, health and wellness, IPG confirmed. Some of the execs will be seeded in other IPG shops but the majority will operate under the shingle that IPG is setting up, the rep added. For the time being, they are working out of space in the Herald Square building that Foote Cone & Belding occupies, the rep said.

Days after they quit Saatchi, the execs signed letters of intent to join IPG but the holding company subsequently backed of—at the request of General Mills—to give Saatchi an opportunity to hire at least some of them back, sources said. It became clear, however, that few, if any, wanted to return, particularly after Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts said that each had individually approached the Publicis Groupe shop, looking for their jobs back.

“We are honoring our commitment. We are going to hire them all,” said the IPG rep, adding, “There’s nothing temporary about that.”

IPG remained interested in the execs because of their long-standing relationships with General Mills (some had worked on the cereal giant’s brands for more than 20 years.) However, the Minneapolis, Minn. client last month assured Roberts and Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy that all of its business at Saatchi was secure.

As such, IPG is said to be trying to put itself in a better position to compete should General Mills consider moving any of the brands at Saatchi, which include Big G cereals, Yoplait yogurt and Betty Crocker fruit snacks.