Close-Up: Newsmaker - Publicis puts the client's viewpoint at its heart

Publicis' new chief executive, Neil Simpson, brings long experience of working on the other side of the fence.

Just months after the appointment of Sony's David Patton to the role of chief executive at Grey London, Publicis has also given its top role to a marketer.

Neil Simpson has spent the past ten years working at some of the world's biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Adidas and Vodafone, although he began his career in advertising, starting out at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

He is a bold choice for an agency that began the year in the middle of the most turbulent period in its history. Not only did Publicis end 2006 by losing the £27 million MFI account (which went to M&C Saatchi), but followed this in 2007 by losing the £47 million Asda account to Fallon and the £12 million Post Office business to Mother.

The departures weren't just limited to accounts. Grant Duncan, the chief executive, left and joined the head-hunter Grace Blue. He was followed out of the door shortly afterwards by the chairman, Tim Lindsay, who is now in the top chair at TBWA\London.

Following this, the agency managed to batten down the hatches and go through a period of relative stability, but pitches have been few and far between and the agency has been treading water.

That is why this appointment was crucial for Richard Pinder, the chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide, who has been attempting to keep the agency on a straight course.

He says: "Given the time we've had recently, we had to do a lot of work in rebuilding confidence among the clients and at the agency. We've started doing this already but Neil will just build on this and push the agency forward.

"Just look at the agencies he's worked with and the great ads under his belt. My most important job was to find someone who cared about the work more than about the ad agency, and this is what we have in Neil. His love of creative and his sensibilities as a client make him the perfect choice."

Simpson knows that he has a hard task ahead of him but, like Pinder, he is optimistic that his experience from both agency and client side stands him in good stead to complete the job in hand.

In fact, he is so confident that, upon his appointment, Simpson told Campaign that he believed Publicis could "become the most creative agency out of all of the multinational agencies in London".

- Why do you want to move back to agency life?

Advertising is what I always wanted to do, from an alarmingly young age. It's where I started my career, so in many ways it feels very natural to be returning. I enjoy the challenge of delivering creative and effective communications solutions to clients' business problems, and I am relishing the chance to use what I have learned as a client within an industry that I love.

- Why Publicis?

I was fortunate enough to have a couple of options when I had finished my entrepreneurial adventure. I chose Publicis because I think, compared with its competitors, it is better placed to deliver the real integration that clients need today. Not only are all disciplines well represented, but we are also seamlessly interweaving them throughout all our processes.

I was also attracted by the blue-chip client list, which is packed with household brand names that deserve great work. But most importantly, I met a wide variety of talented people that I knew I would enjoy working long hours with.

- What is your initial plan for Publicis?

To inject energy and confidence. I want to build a stronger sense of pride and personal responsibility. I also want to inject a greater awareness and understanding of a client's business pressures that will allow us to be confident about our creative recommendations, and more relevant with our proactive proposals.

- How will you kick-start Publicis after the past 12 months?

Let's be clear, the business is not in decline. There are a number of fantastic success stories, such as the Army (which is a fully integrated campaign that has seen a 9 per cent increase in recruits) and the latest iteration of the Renault Clio campaign, which helped exceed the sales target by 25 per cent and increase market share. There are also some exciting campaigns on the blocks.

We are the biggest piece of a group that bears our name, both in the UK and globally, and I want us to act like it.

- How important will creativity be to your recovery plan?

It will be the cornerstone. Thankfully, it is a strong department because the business has invested in developing the talent pool. Blending the successful creative departments of Publicis Dialog and Publicis Modem will enhance that strength.

- How do you rate the management team already in place?

There has been a lot of talk about the names that have left over the last year, and not enough about the day-to-day management that has remained. Nik Studzinski, the executive creative director, and Kim Douglas, the executive planning director, are experienced and talented professionals.

I have also been pleasantly surprised by the second tier of management and I have no doubt that some of them will take the opportunity to step up and shine.

- Will you be looking for a managing director?

It's too early to say.

- You haven't worked this side of the fence for 12 years. How will this affect you in the role?

I hope in a positive way. Although I haven't worked for an agency since I left BBH in 1995, I have spent the past 12 years observing, working with and working among agencies of all shapes and sizes, from all disciplines, all over the world. So, if nothing else, I should be able to offer unique experience and objectivity.

- What insight will your experience as a client lend you in your new role?

It will give me a real appreciation of how an advertising agency can help a client, and when it just hinders them. It will also give me an understanding of the pressures that clients face within their organisations, and where and how marketing communications sits within their company. The right brand communications, presented and sold in the appropriate manner, can galvanise a company and drive a positive internal culture.

- How will a man of your standing handle bowing to clients?

Well, I am not a man of standing, and I really hope I won't have to bow ... too much.

- What will be your new-business focus, domestic or international?

We will focus on domestic new business. Our international colleagues are proving to be extremely successful with new business and we will continue to support them whenever necessary.

- How closely will you work with Publicis Groupe agencies?

Seamlessly.

- How will you handle the pressures of answering to the group?

So far the group has been extremely supportive. If we demonstrate the success that it demands, then I am sure this will continue. If we don't, then things will become more difficult. I would expect nothing less.

- Which agency do you most admire and why?

BBH for its creative principle and consistency, and Publicis Worldwide for its commitment and conviction in building the international communications business of the future.

- What will the ideal ad agency look like in five years' time?

Come and visit us at 82 Baker Street and I will show you.

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