Jennifer Laing, the veteran advertising executive, was named yesterday to chair Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising UK, the London-based arm of the troubled international advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi.
Saatchi management hope Ms Laing, who previously spent 17 years with Saatchi rising to the position of deputy chairman of the UK operation, will help secure new business and protect Saatchi's eroding client base.
She will replace David Kershaw, who left Saatchi to join Maurice Saatchi's rival company, New Saatchi, set up after Maurice was pushed out in December.
Saatchi & Saatchi will buy out Laing Henry, the agency Ms Laing helped build in the1980s and early1990s, for £1.2m worth of shares in the parent company. The exact number of shares will be determined by averaging the share price in the five dealing days prior to conclusion of the deal, scheduled for 31 March.
Ms Laing, who owns 38 per cent of Laing Henry, will receive shares worth £456,000. She will be paid £175,000 a year in salary but, initially, will have no share options or bonuses. All 40 staff of Laing Henry will join Saatchi's.
Variously described as "bold" and "competent" by colleagues and competitors, Ms Laing will work with the Saatchi network heads of Europe, the US and Asia. Some analysts questioned the need to buy out the smaller agency in order to secure the services of a new chairman. Others were less critical. "She is bringing business with her, and she can probably generate more," one said.
Ms Laing stressed yesterday she did not presume that all her clients - among them the Department of Health and Muller yogurt - would make the move to Saatchi's. All the same, Saatchi yesterday claimed its billings following the buyout would amount to £493m, on the assumption that most of Laing's clients would follow.
Adam Crozier, co-chief executive of Saatchi Advertising UK, said yesterday that "the gains outweigh the losses", a reference to lost accounts that have given the agency widespread negative publicity. He said that new accounts totalling £14m have been signed in recent weeks, while Laing Henry is expected to bring in £40m. Last month, Mars, the confectionery company, dumped Saatchi subsidiary Bates, resulting in the loss of business worth £30m a year. British Airways is yet to decide, whether to retain Saatchi's for its worldwide business.