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
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,"
"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
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