CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/PAUL SILBURN - Adland's creative nomad sets up camp with TBWA - Leith London has been left reeling after Paul Silburn's new move

Paul Silburn, until last week the creative director of Leith

London, is hot property. The Cannes gold winner - whose portfolio

includes acclaimed and effective work for John West Salmon, Stella

Artois, Lynx, Reebok, McDonald's and Nike - has been courted by Abbott

Mead Vickers BBDO and Bartle Bogle Hegarty in recent months.

Now, Silburn's tenure at Leith London is at an end after Trevor Beattie

finally succeeded in his long-running campaign to bring him to


The poaching has clearly left a fragile situation at Leith London.

Insiders describe the atmosphere as "difficult" and Silburn refuses to

comment on the agency, suggesting that legal issues still loom in the


Leith London has every reason to be touchy. Silburn's creative standing

was one of the agency's most valuable commodities when it launched, amid

much fanfare, last September. Expectations for the outfit had been high,

owing both to the talent recruited to run the agency and the creative

reputation established by its Scottish parent. The news of Silburn's

departure comes at a particularly tough time, however. Leith London has

spent the last year pitching for a number of accounts, but failing to

convert any beyond Iomega and Marie Claire - not enough to make an

impact on the competitive London ad scene.

Leith London's chief executive, John Rowley, recently described the

agency as "just needing a bit more time to get more conversions under

its belt".

Silburn, though, has clearly decided time has run out.

Rowley offers a rather brusque explanation for the departure. "The

chemistry is the most important aspect for us and it hasn't worked out,"

he says.

"Jeremy Pyne, John Messum (the other founding partners) and Sarah Ryder

are a strong team that get on with one another, and Paul isn't so much a

part of that."

Silburn remains tight-lipped on the issue, but others are quick to offer

alternative viewpoints. One former colleague points to the creative

limitations of a small agency role, particularly an agency that is

wholly dependent on a limited portfolio and can't afford to take risks:

"I suspect he went to Leith to do good ads, and the opportunity wasn't

there." According to Beattie, Silburn "needs a bigger stage".

Whatever the issue, it's clear that losing Silburn will not help the

agency raise its profile, although it may leave the path clear for Leith

London's other main creative Messum, who has shown his staying power

with a 13-year stint at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Silburn's CV is more wide-ranging. He joined Simons Palmer Denton

Clemmow Johnson in 1992, partnering Tiger Savage and working on Nike

before jumping ship to BBH in 1994.

There he started the "Lynx effect" campaign, and also worked on Levi's

and Polaroid.

Silburn moved to Lowe Howard-Spink in 1996, partnering Vince Squibb to

work on the early "Withabix" campaign for Weetabix and producing

memorable work for Stella Artois, Scalextric and Olympus. In April 2000

he moved to Leo Burnett as a creative director, staying long enough to

produce the John West spot before leaving for Leith London a year


On his travels Silburn has earned himself the reputation for being

rather difficult. "He's a bit of a grumpy old sod," a former colleague


Beattie shrugs off accusations of his signing's arrogance: "That doesn't

smack of jealousy at all, does it? If I had his ability, I'd be utterly


There are also plenty of former colleagues willing to put the prima

donna reputation into perspective. "Sometimes being passionate can be

classed as being difficult," one says, claiming that Silburn's

temperament is borne of a dedication to getting things right. "Paul's a

real enthusiast," Squibb says. "He lives for ads and he's a real hard

worker." Clemmow Hornby Inge's creative director, Charles Inge, who

worked alongside Silburn at Lowe, adds: "He's very talented and he's

very passionate about good work. At Lowe, he got involved with the very

good work very quickly."

For Silburn, TBWA offers the best of both worlds. "It's an agency with

big budgets and clients, but the attention is still fresh and young," he

says. "There's a good attitude about the place."

Silburn's role seems tailored to make the most of these clients; he's

been handed a floating brief with the freedom to work across the

agency's portfolio and been given creative sign-off on his own work.

Beattie confirms he's seeking someone to partner Silburn - but as

Silburn himself says: "We're not going to get them in for the sake of

it, just to have someone sitting at the opposite side of the desk."

Silburn's career hasn't suggested an urge to settle down. After six

months at Leo Burnett and a year at Leith London, could this finally be

the right place? "I really hope so," he answers ruefully.

Beattie, for one, is undeterred by Silburn's penchant for moving on


"I love that sort of challenge," he replies, with typical gusto. "If

someone believes we'll have trouble keeping him, thank you. I accept

your challenge."


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