Saatchi’s Roberts: General Mills to Stay Put

NEW YORK Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts on Friday reiterated the Publicis Groupe agency’s contention that no General Mills business would move as a result of a walkout by 17 staffers last week.

He also confirmed that the shop is in talks with the executives about the possibility of returning. Roberts also suggested, however, that Saatchi would fill at least some of the vacancies with new hires and promotions.

“We have been assured by General Mills that they were completely unaware of this breakaway and that all the business is completely secure at Saatchi & Saatchi,” said Roberts, in a statement, echoing what Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy said last week.

“The work on Yoplait, Cheerios, Pillsbury and Progresso continues to be well received by consumers everywhere and there remains over 100 people at Saatchi who are continuing to deliver outstanding work on time, on target,” Roberts said. “This has turned into a terrific opportunity to add even more talent to our General Mills business. We will be announcing some major exciting new hires from outside the agency next week, with more to follow; some key experienced talent from within the agency will be promoted; and we will be reviewing whether any of the 17 ex-colleagues have a role to play going forward.”

Referring to the former employees, Roberts said, “Every one of them individually has contacted us to discuss a possible return to the agency.”

Other sources said Saatchi and the executives had reconnected, but disputed the assertion that the staffers approached the agency. One source said the talks came at the suggestion of General Mills, which could not be reached for comment.

Roberts concluded his statement, by saying, “Interesting times. Everyone at Saatchi is focused on creating great ideas and advertising for the General Mills brands we all love.”

The 17 executives who quit on Feb. 14 have signed letters of intent to join Interpublic Group, via a new standalone unit or through Campbell Mithun, a General Mills roster shop with a small office in New York, said sources [Adweek, Feb. 21].

IPG’s offer still stands but without signed contracts; the executives are free to go where they please, said sources. IPG declined comment.

All but one of the executives worked on the bulk of Saatchi’s estimated $550 million General Mills account, and sources have been busy placing bets on whether the cereal business was part of the deal or would follow the group.

On Saturday, Levy said the Minneapolis-based client had assured him that “100 percent of the business we have [is] secured.”

And Levy was said to be mulling legal action toward the Saatchi group, even if General Mills stayed put because the group resignation appeared to be orchestrated.

Last week, General Mills would only go so far as to confirm that Saatchi New York CEO Mary Baglivo and executive creative director Tony Granger had assumed leadership roles on the account, after the agency split with worldwide account director Mike Burns, adding, “We continue to be very pleased with Saatchi’s work on our behalf, and we are looking forward to continuing our 80-year relationship.”