Paul Simons: power meals that mattered with John Wren and various other Omnicom big shots

My previous piece on the famous advertising lunch got me thinking about the ones that were truly about making history.

When we went through the process of selling Simons Palmer to Omnicom it became clear the interest was purely for the advertising agency and not a lot of attention was being focused on our media interest with Manning Gottlieb Media, MGM. My recollection was that Omnicom were a little behind the UK trend of separating media from creative. This was being resisted in the US whereas WPP had seen the writing on the wall here in the UK.

Colin Gottlieb had an idea about combining the media interests of the Omnicom creative agencies in London – AMV, BMP and TBWA – so I mentioned it to John Wren who had just become CEO of Omnicom. John in turn suggested I contact Bruce Crawford in New York who invited me to meet him at his office on Madison Avenue.

So Colin, Nick Manning and I flew to New York and met Bruce Crawford at his office one morning around 11.00 a.m. Sitting at Bruce’s meeting table Colin drew a diagram of the three separate media interests in London pointing out the benefits and the prognosis of how media would evolve in the future. After about an hour we moved to an ante room laid out for lunch and we carried on chatting.

At some point Bruce asked about the ownership issues. In terms of MGM we had sold our stake as part of the agency sale, Carat owned 19 per cent with Nick and Colin holding 32 per cent between them. Bruce suggested Omnicom buy Nick and Colin’s interest on the same multiple as the Simons Palmer deal – 15 times post tax – and also buy out Carat.

We finished lunch promptly around 2.00, went down the lift in to Madison Avenue where Nick and Colin turned to me and said “What happened there?” My answer was “You’ve just become rich”.

That was the beginning of what is now a very big and successful operation as OMG. Little did I know at the time we were at the very source of what has become a giant river flowing across the world.

Colin is CEO of the EMEA operation, Nick left and is enjoying a second career at Ebiquity.

Unknown-10Around the same period there was a big get-together in Los Angeles of the TBWA network which John Wren (left) also attended. We were in detailed negotiations on the structure of the merged Simons Palmer/TBWA entity and John chaired a meeting attended by Bill Tragos (TBWA global CEO), Alastair Richie, (TBWA EMEA CEO) Carl Johnson (my partner), David Lake (global CFO of TBWA) and me. We got stuck on an argument about the naming of the merged agency. My logic was the existing UK agencies led with the local name, i.e. AMV/BBDO, BMP/DDB, so logically our enlarged entity should be Simons Palmer/TBWA. Bill Tragos was not having any of this and argued aggressively that TBWA should be the lead name.*

It ended in stalemate so the meeting broke up. On the way out John Wren asked me what plans I had for dinner and obviously I said none.

Carl Johnson and I met John and David Lake in the hotel reception, jumped into a waiting limo and were driven to The Ivy on the Beach in Santa Monica for dinner. John did his best at persuading Carl and I that we should accept the Tragos view although it was obvious John got the logic of our argument. At some point, trying to tease out of John what he really thought, as opposed to trying to break the deadlock I said “If I put a gun at your head John what would you really say?” His reply was quick and short with “If you put a gun at my head my chauffeur would shoot you!” At this point Carl slid down his chair and hid under the table.

Obviously a joke but never the less it revealed the chink of determination that got John Wren to where he was then and is now. We conceded.

But both events do demonstrate the value of the time spent over a lunch or dinner on issues that can’t be resolved in a meeting and both examples were the genesis of bigger things to come.

*This was the same event when Bill Tragos attacked me publicly by accusing me of bringing by girlfriend from Campaign to address the TBWA clan on the value of PR. She complimented Simons Palmer as being PR savvy and was less complimentary about TBWA. Quite an interesting few days in LA!

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