Paul Simons: where would I work now?

b3028e22440ee4012a04a64730d645dd-1In the first of a new series in which we invite adland luminaries to tell us where they would work now if they had the choice, Paul Simons, one of the founders of leading UK creative agency of the 1990s Simons Palmer and also a former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather UK, identifies two creative candidates in London.


So where would I work now?

This question requires a bit of context to help clarify the reasons for the wish list of agency brands – assuming a role was open for a veteran!

I think it is a balance between the head and the heart, and we are all different in our DNA and therefore our preferences. Running a fast mental video of my career I would say I lean towards the heart; my mojo has been clearly in the creative end of the job. I have never been turned on by ‘maintenance’ roles on brands, I’ve always been motivated by challenges that require a leap of insight and the opportunity to be a contributor to the development of work that is fresh and interesting.

I’ve always firmly believed outstanding creative work stands a better chance of delivering commercial success for a client than advertising by tick box.

One of my weaknesses is impatience, a lack of interest in administration, becoming switched off when an assignment gets bogged down in painful introspective analysis.

On the question of money I’ve always been of the mind that says money will follow great solutions to a client’s issue, rather than starting with the money and then trying to find ways of making as much as possible.

In today’s world my shortlist of potential employers is quite a short one. I find it easy to reject a whole host of names for a variety of reasons but much harder to nominate where my heart goes.

For me the criteria would be about who is interesting, with the forward potential to shake up the market.

I think top of the list would be Droga5, working for their new London office. Their impact in NYC has been pretty stunning; their output is fresh and original, with some compelling case studies on their US website. They have taken a productive and smart approach to the ‘360’ view of advertising, claimed by so many yet often done badly. Further they did the deal with Hollywood celebrity agency William Morris Endeavor this year, a first in collaboration rather than straight line acquisition and/or part sale.

My guess is the London office will rocket to the top of the UK scene in no short order. I would love to be part of their team trying to figure out how to wrongfoot the competition and also bring some of the approaches the New York office has so successfully achieved to the UK.

On the home-grown front I would narrow down recent start-ups to 18 Feet & Rising. There have been others obviously but I detect 18 Feet have nudged through a few glass ceilings and currently are the surprise wild card on the Dixons pitch versus BBH, M&C, and AMV. It’s always good for a young, independent agency to be on a top table review. Their competition on this pitch all had to do the same thing in their early days and look at them now.

18 Feet have been turning out good quality creative work from the start and their approach on Nationwide deserves acclaim as it deals with pretty mundane products and services in a warm and human way. The creative vehicle is distinctive and clearly very adaptable.

They now need to crash through the next glass ceiling, get to around 50 people, add a few more pillar accounts, keep the quality of the work flowing and they will be on every well-dressed pitch list versus Droga5; now that would be fun!

The advertising industry always needs a few mavericks to stir up the market and provoke progression. A client of mine once said the agency world always needs a ‘burr under the saddle’; I understood precisely what he meant. To avoid complacency setting in, cruising round the same path, a few surprises get everyone sitting up and taking notice. I suspect my two candidate employers today have the ability to be provocative burrs.

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