Which Way Will They Go? Saatchi 17 Still Homeless

Another week went by without a resolution to the fate of the so-called “Saatchi 17,” but behind the scenes there was plenty of activity.

After reaching an agreement to join Interpublic Group, and ostensibly bring with them a chunk of their former General Mills business, the 17 people who walked out of Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi on Valentine’s Day were still without an agency home by press time Friday.

Two weeks ago, Saatchi issued a statement boasting of General Mills’ support of the agency. A day or so later, the cereal maker would respond in kind.

But things were far more tense behind closed doors last week, as the conservative Midwest company became uncomfortable with the public fracas and encouraged a resolution.

Sources said the company asked IPG to “stand down” to give the execs, some of whom had worked on General Mills business for more than 20 years, a chance to explore the possibility of rejoining Saatchi, said sources.

With that, IPG went into a holding pattern, and Saatchi is said to have reached out to some of the ex-staffers to piece together part of the old team.

Worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts acknowledged in a statement on Friday that Saatchi is in talks with some members of the Saatchi 17, but he wrote that the group, who followed worldwide account director Mike Burns out the door, approached the agency.

“Every one of them individually has contacted us to discuss a possible return to the agency,” wrote Roberts. “We will be reviewing whether any of the 17 ex-colleagues have a role to play going forward.”

Sources do not expect all 17 to return; Roberts implied as much in his statement, which also said that Saatchi would hire from the outside and promote from within to staff the estimated $550 million General Mills account, even calling the situation “a terrific opportunity.”

It is clear that the Minneapolis client still values at least some of the veteran executives who left, at least enough to nudge Saatchi toward reconciliation. As one source put it, “The people who left were not castoffs. These are talented people.”

On Friday, a General Mills representative declined comment beyond statements the company has already made, such as: “We continue to be very pleased with Saatchi’s work on our behalf, and we are looking forward to continuing our 80-year relationship.”

Roberts’ end-of-the-week statement came three days after he reassured staffers in a brief agency meeting and six days after Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy said that “100 percent of the business we have with General Mills is secured.”

During his agency meeting, at which Saatchi New York executive creative director Tony Granger also spoke, Roberts echoed Lévy’s assurances. “People applauded and felt better after he spoke,” said a source.

One executive who will not be rejoining the shop, said sources, is Burns, who split with Saatchi three weeks ago after 25 years at the shop, all of them on General Mills. His exit agreement with Saatchi has him under contract until March 15.