Paul Simons: there is no point in over-claiming on your CV – real success is nearly always down to teamwork

I have stumbled across some of the claims people make in their profiles on company websites and personal history on LinkedIn.

I read one this morning where the person concerned claims he was the architect of integration at Ogilvy, possibly one of the more outrageous statements I’ve read in a long time; he was brought in on a trial basis on new business which didn’t work out and he was asked to leave.

Another one relates to the launch of PlayStation and the chap concerned claims he developed the launch strategy for the brand which he didn’t because he wasn’t there when it was launched; I should know as we did it and our man didn’t arrive until after the launch.

It seems the two areas of most frequent claims are a) successful new product launches and b) well known advertising campaigns. To coin a phrase, success has many fathers while failure is an orphan.

Unknown-3When I was roped in to help the CEO of Royal&SunAlliance (RSA) to speculate on potential options in the insurance market it was quite tough to get any real support internally as it was seen as a gamble and likely to fail. However once the outcome of MORE TH>N was launched, very successfully, there was a rush of people wanting to be connected to the success.

In my very early days at Ogilvy I bumped in to strong resistance getting people to volunteer for new business pitches. I was told it was like getting the black spot (Treasure Island reference) and to be avoided, as failure was punished. It took me quite a time to change it from being a curse to a positive gig for a small, selected team. And, with success, more and more people saw the upside of getting involved in new business.

Many people say failure is part of learning, understanding the issues to polish and improve. Anybody who spends a large part of their time on new business in the wider advertising world must have a thick skin because no matter how big a reputation and how much past success has been applauded, every new business pitch is a competition with only one winner.

The Simons Palmer conversion rate was 1 in 3 on average and the occasional purple patch of 1 in 2. Turn it round the other way and the calls saying you haven’t won are more regular than their opposite.

I believe new business in the advertising world is not for the faint-hearted as rejection can really affect some people. It toughens up the veterans of pitching and the smart ones constantly improve their approach. You have to figure out all of the variables that can get in the way. We often would have a session ‘why will we lose?’ to explore the weaknesses in our position and then try and fix them.

business-news_03_temp-1326961727-4f17d43f-620x348Returning to PlayStation, we had the ‘why will we lose?’ conversation as we were the only domestic agency on the shortlist for a pan-European launch – which felt like we were on a sure-fire loser. I arranged a meeting with Chris Deering (left), the founding CEO for PlayStation across Europe, and after some general chat about the pitch posed the question of our limitations geographically. His response was crucial for us as he said: “We believe you are the most interesting agency creatively, the rest of it is about distribution.” It was the only answer that made sense so we went for it big time and won.

Had we not had that conversation we might have pulled out, we needed to answer the question of ‘why will we lose?’

It is often said it is wise to under-promise and over-deliver and I do wonder if those who over-claim about historic events end up with egg on their face. It is very rare for one person to assert, truthfully, that they were solely responsible for a well-known event; it is almost always about a team.

Back in the days when I worked with Dave Trott it was very rare for Dave to be present in a pitch; his view was that that was the job of the suits. When GGT was flying in its heyday the strength of the agency was the quality of the team and this encompassed the calibre of the briefs, the work and the ingenuity displayed by the account team to get the client to buy the work.

It meant each part of the mix had to be at the top of their game. A weak player would not survive.

Back to top button