When it was announced last week that Mike Burns, Saatchi & Saatchi's worldwide account director on the $630 million (€485.14m; £333.44m) General Mills business would depart in March, no-one used the word 'fired'.

But the code was unmistakable, the New York unit of the Publicis network telling its staff in a clichéd memo that Burns was "leaving" and "looking forward to the prospects of other life and career opportunities."

Burns himself said enigmatically: "It's a dynamic time in the industry right now. There are lots of opportunities."

Just another everyday occurrence in the combustion chamber of politics that is your average ad agency, you might wonder?

Actually, not so.

No fewer than seventeen members of Burn's former team decided they'd rather follow their boss to the departure lounge than work with the management crew - recently appointed ceo Mary Baglivo with four senior group account directors Anne Adriance, Peter Hubbell, Anita May and Mary Haskin - hastily cobbled together to fill the vacuum created by Burns' exit.

Insiders say that some of the above are among the seventeen absconders - which in turn gives rise to speculation that the moving finger has written upon Saatchi's wall so far as General Mills is concerned.

Only two possible reasons come to mind for the mass exodus. Either: (1) loyalty to a departed boss has reached new heights on Madison Avenue; or (2) GM's 630 million annual greenbacks are about to migrate to another location.

Saatchi tried hard to appear unflustered: "While the recent departures are unfortunate, we remain confident in our ability to service this important client. We will continue partnering with them to create big ideas that transform General Mills' brands and take the business to even greater heights."

Let Burns have the last word: "I have nothing but great hopes that everybody is going to continue to be successful," said he.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff