A few small square pictures depicting fragments of familiar brands – bright blue tins of Heinz baked beans and yellow and red Kodak logos – tucked away in the television room are the only clues in the home of Moray Maclennan, worldwide chief executive of M&C Saatchi, that his profession is advertising. And that is exactly how he likes it. “I try not to put too much of my work into the house. It would be very easy to have lots of vintage advertising memorabilia and posters,” he says. Nor has he any desire to live in the advertising cliché, which he characterises as a loft with plenty of glass and black-and-white photography somewhere in London’s Docklands or Shoreditch.
Instead, his home is a mix of big, squishy sofas, Danish rosewood and high-ceilinged elegance. “I prefer my house to be reasonably cosy,” he says.
The boyish-looking 49-year-old prefers its location in Primrose Hill, north London, to his old neighbourhood Holland Park, which he left eight years ago “because it was becoming a bit like Chelsea … there were a lot of bankers”. He catches himself and grins before back-pedalling furiously. “I don’t have anything against bankers, some of my biggest clients are bankers” (NatWest and RBS are clients), but he prefers a “little bit of bohemia”.
It is a very different environment to that in which he grew up. The son of a Scottish brigadier, Maclennan describes himself as an “army brat” who moved house every three years, which was, he believes, hard on his mother: “She would have liked to be a home-maker … she had a house but it was never hers.” The relocations, he suggests, might have prepared him for advertising by making him “a bit of a butterfly”.
As did being sent away to boarding school. Maclennan attended Fettes in Edinburgh whose alumni include former prime minister Tony Blair and David Ogilvy, the advertising pioneer. “You had to stand on your own two feet. It was a bit like Lord of the Flies.” Not that he’d like to send his children, Mia (10) and Kit (6), away. He surveys the “bonkers” paint-splodged plates they made, which hang on the kitchen walls. “I’m not at home much in the day. It’s rather tidy without the children.” Is he obsessive? “A little bit.” A control freak? “Yes.” At work too? “Yes, I’ve been told I am like that at work, yes.” Maclennan, who exudes mischievous charm, relishes the variety of advertising. “It’s endlessly fascinating because it’s all about understanding different people and cultures and sectors.” It’s a profession he’d be happy for his children to enter, though he thinks his daughter might be too nice.
The line between his professional and personal life is blurred, Maclennan admits. He has just made the 15-minute drive from his central London office and is dressed in a charcoal suit and light blue shirt. He met his wife, the mother of his children, at work; which is also where he met his first wife. He is laissez-faire on office romances. “You can’t expect people to spend 14 or 15 hours a day at work and go out and socialise and not end up having relationships. They’re not in the priesthood.”
He says he is grateful for the buzz Mad Men has sparked. The stylish US television drama, which charts the ascendancy of advertising, has, he believes, put the “sex, swagger and glamour” back into his industry. Not that he has watched it. “What I usually say is that I have watched it and it’s a pale imitation of the real thing. But the truth is, I haven’t.” Nonetheless, he likes the excitement the series has created. “I think a lot of people are almost guilty about being seen to enjoy themselves [at work]. You’re allowed to enjoy your job.”
That is because his industry does have a pernicious toxicity, he says. “Most advertising people are paranoid. If you’re not talking to your clients, some other bastard’s chatting them up, so you can’t get too cocky or too self-confident.”
Paranoia was rife in 1995 when the Saatchi brothers, Maurice and Charles, were forced out of Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency they started and where Maclennan had been since graduating from Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1982. “I was a bag of nerves the whole time,” he confesses, although he now exudes ebullient confidence. The split placed him in a quandary. “It was a big decision. I felt the money men were taking over and the Saatchi gene, the heart of it, had moved elsewhere.” So he left and joined the brothers’ new agency. He enjoyed a close professional relationship with Charles, having worked on the agency’s three biggest accounts: Silk Cut, British Airways and the Conservative party. He describes the reclusive Charles as “incredibly driven and charismatic”.
The turbulence in the mid-1990s was, Maclennan reflects, preparation for the ruptures caused by digital media and the economic shockwaves of the past nine years. The pressure was exacerbated by the company’s flotation in 2004. “Growth becomes absolutely mandatory rather than a really nice [thing] to have, because if you’re a plc, you’ve got to be growing. If you’re a private company you can have a year off if you want.” He admits to occasional regrets over going public. “I’d be lying if I didn’t occasionally say I would like the pressure not to be there. But it’s probably a good thing because it keeps you relentlessly on the wheel,” he grimaces.
Maclennan worked as an account manager on Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 election campaign, which is burnished in his brain because “she shouted at me”. Later he worked with John Major when David Cameron was in the research department at Conservative Central Office, which proved helpful in winning the contract for the 2010 Tory election campaign. Does working on political campaigns affect how he votes? He shrugs. “It puts you off sometimes.”