MAA’s Paul Simons 1948-2020

Paul Simons, my business partner and a shareholder in MAA, has died at 72 after a long illness.

Paul was one of the leading figures in the wave of advertising agencies that revolutionised the UK industry and also had a considerable impact on the world stage from the 1980s. He was the driving force behind the launch of Simons Palmer Clemmow Denton & Johnson which was eventually bought by Omnicom and parachuted into TBWA.

A West Midlands boy, he began his career at Cadbury then United Biscuits before joining Birmingham agency Cogent Elliott and then seminal London agency Gold Greenlees Trott. Simons Palmer rapidly made an impact for clients including BT, Nike and PlayStation and launched a number of enduring spin-offs including Manning Gottlieb Media, still one of the UK’s leading media agencies at Omnicom and Maher Bird Associates (MBA.)

TBWA in that era hosted many top ad executives including Simons Palmer partner Carl Johnson (later founder and CEO of Anomaly), Neil Christie (Wieden+Kennedy), Michael Wall (Fallon, Lowe Grouo and now Mother), Robert Senior (Saatchi & Saatchi) and Johnny Hornby, who formed CHI (now The&Partnership) with Simons Palmer’s Simon Clemmow.

Paul then joined Ogilvy & Mather as UK chairman and CEO where he stayed for three years and then formed AIM-listed group Cagney PLC. Latterly he was a consultant to a number of agencies and client companies alongside his interest and involvement in MAA.

He was also active as an alumnus of the University of Lancaster Business School and taught communications at colleges in London.

Paul well understood creativity’s vital role but, as a former client trained at the UK’s top finishing schools, also its need to be relevant. Speaking as the creative part of the partnership, I can testify to his good nature, wisdom and respect for other people’s skills. He will be much missed.

Here’s his own tribute in MAA, launching the series ‘My Ad Hero’ – contributed among many incisive and popular posts – to the work of GGT’s Dave Trott.

My Ad Hero

My interpretation of the title is: who is top of the people list who have had an impact on my working life. It is a big list of people and events, too many to include here, and it goes back a long way.

I grew up in a Worcestershire backwater but I had the good fortune to know a few bigger thinkers such as John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame who was the drummer in my first band when we were both 15. John and I had the dream of life outside our backwater. He did his version and I did mine. The day I arrived at Abbey Road studios aged 18 for a recording session was a significant, hugely influential experience. On day one we were in studio 2 where The Beatles equipment was stacked against the studio wall. They were in after us working on Sgt Pepper.

I decided there and then I wanted part of this world, not necessarily as a musician, mainly because I didn’t think I was ever going to be an outstanding one.

I have always believed there is a natural link between musicians and the advertising world for several reasons. One is the respect for creative talent. Another is the structure of the strong band, just like the strong ad agency, a team playing in harmony, each with their own talents, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Clock wipe 18 years and I joined a punk advertising agency called Gold Greenlees Trott. They and BBH, WCRS, AMV, Lowes Howard-Spink et al were the cool indies of the ’80’s. GGT was the edgy one.

Dave Trott (left) was the soul of the place and was both a great teacher and great practitioner. He had a fearsome reputation, didn’t suffer fools gladly, wasn’t bothered about being liked or otherwise. There are many stories about Dave such as banning certain account men from the creative floor, wearing dark glasses in his office (he did suffer from an eye condition but it still made him look scary), and the creative department to a man wouldn’t leave the building until after Dave had left, often quite late in the evening.

My hiring was a big move for the agency, I was the first outsider to join the board with equity, and I was clearly not the obvious casting for a place that was more Sex Pistols than Sinatra. The first four months or so were not easy, I felt I was being tested all the time.

I could see and understand Dave’s personality, trying to lay the golden eggs but often surrounded by verbosity and ambiguity. He would verbally cut account men and planners to shreds if he thought their brief was rubbish. If he refused to sign off a brief no creative work could begin.
Dave was, and is, a man in the street strategist and writer. He would ask basic questions such as “do they want market growth or increased market share?” Such a basic question that most people couldn’t answer it but crucial as it affects the proposition significantly. His prodding always improved the quality and focus of briefs. It was very very rare for creative proposals to be rejected by a client as a consequence of this early attention to detail.

Much of the output of GGT blended the brand name seamlessly to the proposition: “Hello Tosh Gotta Toshiba,” “Designed well, Built well, Honeywell,” “Ariston and on and on,” “More reasons to shop at Morrison’s” etc. I always felt you could tell a TV spot from GGT a mile off.

I believe Dave’s pursuit of clarity, eliminating ambiguity, stripping tasks down to their bare bones taught a wide range of people to raise the bar on delivery – planners, account men, or creative teams – and without doubt influenced Simon Clemmow, Carl Johnson and me when we left the nest and started our own enterprise.

Dave’s personality, rigour and standards haven’t made him the easiest person to work with for a lot of people but my experience was a good one and I will be eternally grateful for his influence, advice and example. GGT was a tough work place in many ways but I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed 95 per cent of my time there – and working with Dave gave me the confidence to trust my instincts.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Truly sorry to hear the news. I never actually met Paul, but we corresponded with each other via email and he said nice things about my efforts for MAA. Coincidentally, we were both alumni of Cogent Elliott, though at different times. I am sure he will play a major role at the “Agency in the Sky.”

  2. Avatar

    Very kind George thanks

  3. Avatar

    Very sad news. RIP Paul.

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