'I'll see you in 45 years, guys -- bring your beanbags,' Saatchi & Saatchi CEO says about the fight with Google and Facebook for creative talent

Robert SeniorSaatchi & SaatchiRobert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Attracting and retaining the best creatives has become a major pressure for advertising agencies, especially with the rise of tech giants like Google and Facebook that tempt employees with funky beanbag-dressed offices and perks like free laundry.

WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell, arguably the world’s most famous ad man, told PR Week this summer that “the battle for talent is becoming harder and harder” as “new generations increasingly want to work for more tech-focused, networked, flexible, non-hierarchical organisations.”

It has become even harder to reward top talent with the high salaries and fancy working conditions that can be afforded by tech companies, as clients are increasingly controlling their costs (packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble is targeting $US200 million in ad agency related savings this year, for example).

Despite challenges from Silicon Valley, Robert Senior, the CEO of Publics Groupe-owned Saatchi & Saatchi (which currently counts P&G as a client) is confident agencies will win out in the long run, though he admits the industry has “fundamentally changed” compared to the “Mad Men”-esque decades past.

Saatchi & Saatchi has been around for 45 years and it’s going nowhere, according to Senior.

“There’s a lot of new-age companies that position themselves as the utopia of working existence,” Senior told Business Insider at the ad agency’s London headquarters this week.

“But when you peel away one layer and have a little look at what’s happening at Facebook right now, to an extent at Google — the churn — look at Amazon, where there’s quite a big crisis coming out from the New York Times piece. I have never seen anybody crying at their desk at Saatchi & Saatchi and I don’t ever expect to. But that’s quite OK elsewhere. Beanbags or no beanbags.”

Facebook menlo campus 8FacebookFacebook’s Menlo Park office.

While some people may look at the rise of technology companies as a threat to the ad industry, Senior says it’s an opportunity. Now more people than ever can take photos, edit films, and share their talents.

There’s a bigger pool to fish from. The “danger” then is trying to be all things to all people. Or trying to use money to persuade the best people over.

Senior said: “If your vernacular is based entirely around the language of finance, then you’re unlikely to attract the best creative forces unless you apply that financial wizardry and pay them a ridiculous amount of money. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a doomed prophecy, in my opinion.

SaatchiBusiness Insider/Lara O’ReillyThe Saatchi & Saatchi London headquarters.

Senior added that those who talk of a “talent drain” from the ad industry to tech companies have too short-term a way of looking at things.

The “Mark Twain obituary writers” often forget that Saatchi has achieved “astonishing things” over the decades, not least staying in business, when many other startup ad agencies and tech businesses vying for creative talent have failed.

“[They talk about] this quarter, or this year, or these four years. And it’s really exciting and funky for creative people to go there. But I’ve been here for 40 years. The company has been here for 45 years. I’ll see you in 45 years, guys. See how you’re doing then. Bring your beanbags,” Senior added.

Breathing the “swagger” back into Saatchi

If Senior comes across as being full of bravado, then he’s perfectly on-brand.

Senior was appointed to the role nine months ago and has since tasked himself with bringing confidence back to the agency, which has gone through an enormous amount of turnover in its top ranks in recent years (Saatchi & Saatchi New York has had three CEOs in just two years, for example) and lost top clients such as Miller Lite and Kool-Aid.

Senior has been charged with bringing some of the swagger back to Saatchi. He believes that’s already evident in some of the work the company has been doing for Toyota, HSBC, mobile operator EE, and Procter & Gamble — its Pampers “Poo Face” campaign, for example, won a silver and two bronze lions at Cannes.

“The work we’re doing on Procter & Gamble right now is a source of great pride. There’s some fun stuff: It’s got oxygen in the system, there’s a lightness of touch, a spring in the step, there’s confidence — all these things the brand Saatchi & Saatchi has been famous for and what we’re trying to put back into the system,” Senior said.

The core value of Saatchi & Saatchi is etched into the steps we walk up to enter its London headquarters: “Nothing is impossible.” And it’s what sets the agency apart from its peers, according to Senior.

“I think that brings with it a certain swagger, a certain belief, which on a bad day might be construed as arrogance. But on a good day it is construed as almost seductive confidence. And confidence is a bit like cholesterol. There’s good confidence, and there’s bad confidence. Our culture orbits around the core of nothing is impossible and when you believe that, things are much more fun. When you don’t believe that, it’s when life sucks,” Senior said.

Senior is looking forward to getting Saatchi “back to an accelerated momentum”

Senior says he is looking forward to getting his company back to an “accelerated momentum” and producing strong results for Publicis, the holding company.

Publicis Groupe suffered a torrid Q3, missing analysts’ expectations and cutting its full-year forecast, due to foreign exchange headwinds and a “surprising” number of clients either cancelling or postponing their campaigns — which also affected Saatchi. Organic growth at Publicis in the three months to September was at just 0.7%, well below the company’s own expectations set out in the previous quarter, and below the strong growth posted by competitors such as Omnicom and WPP in their Q3 earnings.

In Saatchi & Saatchi Group Limited’s most recent accounts filed with Companies House, the company reported 7% drop in revenue year-on-year to £53.5 million ($US82.5 million) in 2014. Profit after tax dropped 49% to £11.7 million (18 million.) More than half (51%) of the company’s revenue came from the UK, while 40% came from the USA.

On the back of a tough 2014, Senior has a task on his hands to rev Saatchi back up to the “accelerated momentum” he is aiming for.

But with Saatchi’s P&G team “doing well,” client Toyota just being announced as 2020 mobility sponsor for the Olympic Games, and the company just winning the pitch for Visa Europe, Senior says times are “exciting.”

He said: “I’m looking forward to waking up on January the first 2016. It’s going to be an interesting year.”

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