The showcase 2023
Snapping at success: Saatchi & Saatchi's transformative Year
A new CEO, the most coveted win of the year, and driving effective business transformation for clients - the agency is on a roll
Saatchi & Saatchi’s 2023 was quite the ride. From a change in leadership to landing the most coveted pitch of the year, it has been a full-pelt twelve months that the agency can look back on with real satisfaction.
CEO James Denton-Clark, who took over from the former chief Chris Kay in the summer, gives us his lowdown on the journey.
James Denton-Clark, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi
What three words would you use to describe 2023?
Ideas with Influence.
Talk us through some of your agency’s highlights this year?
We helped our clients build their brand’s influence in the real world. EE helped Manchester students get home safe, using real time data on posters to give people directions and travel updates. Solgar helped the country feel better on Blue Monday by transmitting sunlight through their posters.
We used our influence within government to remind Sunak about the importance of talent within the creative industries. And the award-winning work for “pregnant then screwed” to influence legislation around childcare. We led the national news agenda and made the broadsheet front pages with our marketing advice for Starmer and the Labour Party.
We gave new purpose to our 33-year-old New Creators’ Showcase, in which we donate our annual slot on the main stage at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to spotlighting the work of new creators and directors. This year launching an industry first mentoring programme, which saw us commit to ensure that all of our shortlisted creators will bid for at least one piece of commercial business in the next 12 months.
We built an EE game store within Fortnite, guarded by the world’s best players and challenged people to try and capture it. And built the first grid activated poster after winning the Ovo pitch. It only displayed when the grid was mostly powered by green energy.
We asked the only question any marketer should have this year: What the fuck is going on? Authored by Richard Huntington and focused on telling real stories from across the country, our state of the nation research documented in graphic terms the severe problems that people are facing and every brand needs to understand.
And we won the John Lewis Partnership pitch and then Christmas (no pressure).
What one thing are you proudest of this year?
A Venus flytrap who wants to be a Christmas tree.
And what’s been your biggest challenge?
Standing on the shoulders of giants.
What are you most looking forward to in 2024?
Continuing the momentum and building the buzz.
What one change would you most like to see in our industry next year?
I’d like to see our industry regain our influence. Not only in the boardrooms and breakfast tables. But in Whitehall and within culture.
Creative Salon on Saatchi's 2023
Saatchi’s year started as it meant to go on – fighting for creativity. When Rishi Sunak announced plans to make maths compulsory to age 18, Saatchi & Saatchi sent a roving ad-van to Westminster to make the case for more investment in creativity. The agency’s campaigning spirit also took flight with a new iteration of its "Pregnant man" ad to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe vs Wade.
Then in February Saatchi’s Upriser scheme - a free nationwide schools programme offering young people an introduction into the creative industry – signed up ITV as its founding partner. And in March a new campaign for Pregnant Then Screwed spotlighted the childcare crisis by using billboards incorporating the sound of a baby crying to draw attention to the issue.
These are exactly the sort of purpose-led initiatives that industry-leading agencies should be pursuing, and Saatchi is leading the way.
The agency also worked with EE under the Hope United banner to tackle online homophobia in football with a humorous film featuring former England player Joe Cole and comedian Tom Allen. “GayVAR” is a free online video content series featuring digital skills to educate users on how to challenge and report online homophobic abuse.
Other notable campaigns included work for The British Heart Foundation highlighting moments that set your heart pounding to promote the charity’s weekly lottery, a campaign for EE that offered Fortnite fans the chance to take on some of the world’s leading Twitch streamers, and the agency’s first work for Robinsons since winning the account last year, featuring a choir gargling with the drink to the tune of Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire,
But three campaigns in particular mark out what was so special about Saatchi’s year.
First, the launch of the new EE. Saatchi & Saatchi has been working with EE since the brand made its debut in 2011 and over the last three years has been working with EE management behind the scenes on a complete transformation of the BT/EE business. The changes include retiring the BT brand as a consumer-facing offer and focussing on EE, including a wholesale repositioning of EE as the brand that connects our modern lives at work, home and play. The depth and breadth of the transformation – led at Saatchis by CSO Richard Huntington and Publicis Groupe’s Magnus Djaba - will play out over the coming months and years but it’s testament to Saatchis' trusted partner status that the agency was fundamental to the strategic rethink. And the accompanying campaign, steered by Publicis Groupe’s CCO Ben Mooge, does a wonderful job of encapsulating life in modern – connected – Britain.
But it’s fair to say the ad industry was more interested in Saatchi’s work for John Lewis and Waitrose after the agency pulled off the biggest coup of the year by winning the hotly contested accounts when they went up for pitch in the Spring. The winning Saatchi pitch team - of CCO Franki Goodwin, CSO Richard Huntington, MD Sarah Jenkins and CPO Jess Ringshall- deserves full credit for a tremendous result that has taken the agency to the next level.
Both brands came with a superlative creative reputation from their time working with adam&eveDDB, particularly as the John Lewis work had come to define excellence at Christmas. But not only did Saatchis scoop the coveted accounts, the agency also managed to land the Christmas campaigns with aplomb, despite the enormity of the pressure that Goodwin must have felt.
Other new business wins somewhat pale in comparison but even outside the John Lewis coup, the agency had a good year of growth. Early in 2023 Saatchi landed the global account for finance company Alvarium Tiedemann (Alti), and followed that up by scooping the Ovo Energy business.
To help handle this growth, new recruits included Raph Basckin, who joined from Droga5 as an executive creative director heading up creative for one of the agency’s three ‘squads’, including the Subway and Waitrose business. Then Emily Lewis-Keane was appointed strategy partner, joining from Canada’s Cosette to lead planning on a squad whose clients include Ovo and EE and Jimmy MacAskill was appointed strategy director after joining the agency in the Spring.
But of course the biggest appointment was the one at the top. In January is was announced that CEO Chris Kay would be returning to Australia and that James Denton-Clark, managing director at Accenture Song, would be his replacement. It's one of the biggest jobs in the industry and Denton-Clark was suitably excited and energised to be stepping up.
By the time he arrived in the summer the agency had already won John Lewis and was well on its way to its best year for quite some time. But Denton-Clark has hit the ground running, embracing a compelling positioning around Ideas With Influence and a clear-eyed strategy to put Saatchi back at the heart of national cultural and socio-political conversations.
In this mission he's aided by the impressive work that CSO Huntington has done to unpack the national mood. The agency's "What The Fuck Is Going On?" research proved one of the most important industry studies as the country continues to deal with a cost-of-living crisis and social divisions.
Creative Salon Says: What a year! Saatchi & Saatchi has been on a new business and creative roll in 2023 and it's been exciting to watch. Thanks to the Huntington/Goodwin/Jenkins/Ringshall team the agency didn't seem to miss a beat through the change in leadership and sailed through the challenges of absorbing the John Lewis /Waitrose accounts with their formidable creative reputations. As the new CEO Denton-Clark now has some breathing space to refine the agency's future-facing positioning and all is set fair for a strong 2024.