Burns Files Countersuit Against Saatchi

NEW YORK The legal battle between Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi and Mike Burns heated up today, with the latter’s attorneys filing a motion in New York Supreme Court to dismiss a breach of contract action Saatchi brought against Burns two months ago.

In a statement, Burns, who ran the agency’s General Mills business before splitting with Saatchi in February, said, “A plaintiff’s anger, embarrassment and fear are no basis for legal action. I am quite certain that the court will see through the sophistry presented in Saatchi’s suit and that this matter will ultimately be resolved in my favor.”

A Saatchi representative declined comment.

Saatchi in March had filed a civil lawsuit against Burns, the former worldwide account director on General Mills and onetime supervisor of 17 staffers who walked out en masse on Feb. 14, just three days after Burns split with the shop.

Saatchi’s suit, which asks for at least $3 million in damages, claims to have information to prove that Burns violated the terms of his contract in orchestrating the walkout and soliciting the General Mills business. While none of the other 17 employees are named in the action, they could be in violation of fiduciary duty if they are found to have planned actions while still on the corporate payroll that would have caused harm to Saatchi. It is not clear if Saatchi has evidence of that.

Interpublic Group hired the 17 and created a standalone unit for most of them to pitch brands related to youth, family, health and wellness [Adweek Online, March 11]. Some of the execs were to be seeded in other IPG shops, but the majority will operate under the shingle that IPG is setting up.

Burns, a 25-year Saatchi veteran, and his 17 colleagues oversaw assignments that accounted for nearly 85 percent of Saatchi’s General Mills billings, estimated to represent about two-thirds of the $50 million in annual revenue. The brands included Cheerios, Total and Wheaties cereals, Fruit Roll-Ups snacks and Yoplait yogurt, which ring up some $460 million in billings.

—with Adweek staff reports