MEDIA: HEADLINER; Ambitious media man to put his mark on a troubled brand

Optimedia is about to get the Simon Mathews touch, Anne-Marie Crawford says

Optimedia is about to get the Simon Mathews touch, Anne-Marie Crawford

says



Simon Mathews’ official swearing-in last week as the new managing

director at Optimedia will have been greeted with relief, mirth,

resignation or, more probably, sheer indifference by the advertising

community. But it won’t have come as a surprise.



When the job first came up for grabs last November, trade journalists

desperately tried to pin-point the likely successor. But as weeks became

months, and any media practitioner worth his or her stripes was rumoured

to have been lured to Baker Street for inspection, the whole affair

descended into bathos. The final decision was hugely anti-climactic.



Mathews acknowledges this and the fact that everyone assumed he’d got

the job weeks before the deal was really done. He cheekily jokes that he

would love to have turned it down at the last minute, just to confound

the lot of them.



Turning it down was certainly an option until very late in the day, by

all accounts - hence the hiatus. But despite the hiccups and the false

dawns, for Mathews, now snug in the expansive bosom of the Publicis/FCB

Group, it’s all worked out beautifully.



Others feel differently. To them, Mathews has been unprofessional - a

man who has made a habit of pocketing his bonus, jetting off on holiday,

only to fly home two weeks later, jack in his job and move to pastures

new.



He did it when he left Young and Rubicam to rebrand Equinox in 1994 and

he did it last week when he handed in his notice to Christine Walker -

fresh from a Cordiant-sponsored break en famille in the Virgin Islands -

to throw in his lot with Optimedia.



So what is he? Ruthless schemer and blatant self-aggrandiser or

unfortunate victim of circumstance and bad holiday planning?



He’s known to be aggressive and ambitious, with a reputation as a bit of

a headbanger. But he also has an army of fans who pepper their

conversation with words like ‘bright’ and ‘hard working’. An ex-Y&R

colleague, Tim Lindsay, calls him ‘a very good manager and

practitioner’, although Christine Walker’s tight-lipped ‘I wish Simon

well’ would probably be worth deconstructing.



Mathews at first professed to be too busy for an interview with

Campaign. But on hearing we were pressing ahead with a profile anyway,

he came steaming through sticky Soho to mount a 20-minute defence of his

name.



He arrives at Soho House, having legged it most of the way from

Whitfield Street with sweat literally dripping off him, but he is

assured, confident and relaxed. He also looks tanned and healthy from

his recent sojourn (see above).



In an effort to shatter his sang-froid, I plough straight in with a left

hook about his questionable professional conduct. ‘It was a coincidence

of timing that I resigned from both places after a holiday,’ Mathews

says, quite unperturbed. ‘It’s a childish accusation, I booked that

holiday nine months ago when my wife was pregnant.’



An uppercut suggesting he only took the job for the money is met with a

chuckle. Ah, but what about the fact that at least one of Equinox’s

clients has declared its intention to follow Mathews to Optimedia? ‘No

comment.’



It’s a minor victory. But it gives Mathews a cue to launch into his

version of the ridiculous ‘Is he, isn’t he?’ soap opera that has just

been played out.



It appears Mathews was offered the Optimedia job in February, by which

time he had already spent three months in conversation with a ‘senior

industry figure’ about setting up his own media independent. He claims

he couldn’t walk away from that involvement until it had reached some

sort of proper conclusion. The Optimedia chairman, Simon Lloyd,

therefore gave him until April to sort his life out.



In the event, the start-up plans were buried when Mathews and a crony

failed to secure the backing of an ‘existing media operation’.



So Optimedia was really his second choice then? Another smile. ‘Let’s

just say I arrived at the job through serendipity,’ he says.



Running Optimedia must now occupy his every waking hour if he’s to

justify all the prevarication (although he’s currently desperately

trying to make it up to Christine by tying all the loose ends at Equinox

in perfect bows).



He recognises there’s a job to be done in perception terms at the agency

and will no doubt apply the lessons learned from his Equinox experience,

an outfit he built largely on the strength of his own personality.

Optimedia needs an extra something and Mathews must now play the

consummate alchemist. Lloyd will no doubt be hoping he doesn’t take any

holiday for some time to come.



The Mathews file



1981 Saatchi and Saatchi, trainee media executive

1985 Saatchi and Saatchi, deputy group director

1987 Young and Rubicam, media manager

1988 Y&R, media planning director

1989 Y&R, media director

1994 Equinox, chief executive

1996 Optimedia, managing director



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