Life After the Infamous ‘Saatchi 17’ Walkout

The Burns Group founder reinvents himself with help from 500,000 consumers

Specs: The Burns Group 

Who: Joanne McKinney (l.), chief strategy officer; Michael Burns, managing partner; Ann Morton, COO; and Jim Wilday, partner

What: Advertising agency

Where: New York

After spending a quarter of a century at Saatchi & Saatchi, Mike Burns took his extensive experience on global accounts, especially General Mills, and walked out the door in 2005 with 17 staffers in what was then one of the industry’s most buzzed-about disputes. After his plans for an agency centered on General Mills’ business didn’t materialize, the Burns Group was hatched in 2007 on its namesake’s dining room table—with zero clients. But the agency grew to take on major marketers like Post cereal, ChapStick, Pfizer, Gorton’s seafood and Yellow Tail. The shop’s focus on insights and planning is key: It is connected with an online consumer community called “Brand Informers,” half a million strong, which can be called upon whenever a marketer needs input.