Close-Up: Newsmaker - Will Silburn have the Lynx Effect on Saatchis?

Can SSF Group's first top-level appointment make Saatchi & Saatchi 'creative, brave and great' again?

Talk to your mates about what ads they've liked over the years, and you can bet that a Paul Silburn spot will be mentioned at some point.

He came up with "The Lynx Effect" while at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in the 90s and created "bear" for John West while at Leo Burnett in 2000. He's made memorable spots for Stella Artois and PlayStation, and was the creative force behind TBWA\London's John Smith's campaign starring Peter Kay.

Now, after 18 months spent freelancing, Silburn returns to a permanent position. From January 2008, he will form part of the new management group at Saatchi & Saatchi London, under the stewardship of Robert Senior, the chief executive of SSF Group (comprising Saatchis and Fallon).

Silburn will work alongside Kate Stanners, the executive creative director, who's been at the agency since 2004. They already seem to have developed a good chemistry. Stanners is an effusive and talkative woman who regularly erupts into gleeful cackles, while Silburn is down-to-earth, self-deprecating and quick-witted.

Contrary to the more bitchy rumours doing the rounds, Stanners is not about to throw a hissy fit and storm out of Charlotte Street; in fact, she says that it was her idea to hire Silburn in the first place.

Speaking in a cafe around the corner from their office, Silburn says: "Creative directors have to spend so much time with clients now that in an agency the size of Saatchis, you never get time to spend with your department. There was a trend to have one person in charge (of creative) at a big agency, but can anyone actually manage that now and do it really well? I wonder if we'll see more partnerships in future."

So how will this partnership work? Stanners, who admits that she's "neglected her department" under the pressures of feeling "stretched too thin", says: "Paul will have a focus on the work and I'll have a more outward-looking role, but neither will be exclusive."

Lee Daley, the former Saatchis chief executive, says: "Kate is very good with clients and has a remarkable willingness to deal with difficult client situations."

Silburn, meanwhile, "is brilliant in terms of crafting and getting great work out of people", according to Stanners. "That's what we want him to be doing."

And it is clear that the agency does need to improve its creative output: its last water-cooler spot was Carlsberg's "old lions" from 2006. However, the "not flash, just Gordon" pitch work that secured the Labour Party account in September could bode well for a creative resurgence.

Labour has been Saatchis' most high-profile win of 2007; its last headline-grabber came in late 2006, when it picked up Sony Ericsson, an £80 million account.

The agency also recently failed to convert pitches for Toshiba and eBay, losing out to Grey London and Albion respectively.

Without a chief executive for eight months (Daley left to join Manchester United as commercial director in February and is now between jobs), Stanners says that the agency hasn't been putting itself forward for big pitches.

However, it has to start doing so, as it desperately needs to plug the gaping hole left by losing more Toyota business to CHI & Partners: in July, the £50 million British account that it had managed for 14 years defected. To compound matters, in February, Saatchis London fell out of the annual Nielsen Media Research top ten agency rankings.

Silburn recognises that the stakes are high: "Saatchis is currently like a sleeping giant, but it was founded on being creative, brave and great. Now there's an opportunity to get back to that positioning."

Vince Squibb, a director at Gorgeous who partnered Silburn for five years at Lowe, believes he is the right man for the job: "I think it's a great hiring for Saatchis. He has amazing enthusiasm and works harder than any placement team I've ever met. No-one's better at writing natural, funny dialogue."

Trevor Beattie, the creative director at Beattie McGuinness Bungay and Silburn's former boss at TBWA\London between 2001 and 2004, adds that the "Silburn 'n' Stanners" partnership will be a good fit. "I think they will counter-balance each other very well," he says. "Paul's a class act who sets high standards, and I wasn't happy that he didn't walk straight back into a big job at a London agency."

Beattie is, of course, referring to Pat Fallon's very public firing of Silburn from the executive creative directorship of Fallon Minneapolis in January 2006.

Just 11 months after Silburn joined the agency, Fallon e-mailed the entire company to say: "I am not satisfied with our progress. I needed to make a change and that change called for decisiveness."

At the time, Silburn retorted: "Trying to implement change is kind of what got me fired." He then compared himself to the liberated hostage Terry Waite.

Asked about his experience now, he says firmly: "I don't want to go into it. I met Maurice Levy earlier this year and talked to him about it and he was fine, otherwise I wouldn't be joining (sister Publicis network) Saatchis. It was a bit of a mismatch. Fallon still has things to sort out in America, and I hope it can because it's a great brand."

Beattie adds: "Fallon has always been an advertising Mecca for Paul. He saw how far ahead technically US advertising is, and he will bring that to London."

Silburn's creative legacy from his time at Fallon is an online reality TV programme for the Georgia-Pacific-owned paper towel brand Downey. In the bona fide show - with an Entertainment Weekly review to prove it - eight male contestants live at The Brawny Academy with the lantern-jawed Brawny Man. Tasks to whip them into shape include tossing axes and cleaning a cabin filled with pigs. The campaign scooped a gold at the 2007 Effie Awards.

Senior praises Silburn's multidisciplinary approach: "I have great respect for Paul and his understanding of the platforms that are available to us. His appetite across all things interactive is insatiable."

Chris Chalk, the chief strategic officer at Saatchis who worked on Diageo with Silburn while at Lowe in the 90s, adds: "He's a creative who believes in big ideas that can be expressed in lots of different places."

And it's not just the difference that Silburn will make to the agency himself - it's the effect he will have on up-and-coming talent. Perhaps having such a heavyweight creative at the agency will also help secure a managing director, the last link in the management chain that Senior says he needs to put in place at Charlotte Street.

Silburn says: "By the time we get a full management team, I think we'll have a really good line-up. Fallon London is the obvious example; they complement and support each other well. If we can get a line-up that works like that, I think we stand a bloody good chance."

His industry peers agree. Sarah Gold, the managing partner at CHI & Partners, who has been strongly linked with the MD role at the agency, says: "Paul won't be afraid to cause a few ripples. He is a strong character and won't compromise when it comes to the work. But I can only imagine that that will be a good thing for Saatchis."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 47
Lives: Battersea
Family: Partner, Lovisa; son, Jacob, one
Last book read: The Python Years by Michael Palin
Favourite film: The Godfather
Favourite website: YouTube
Industry hero: Danny Kleinman
Motto: "Unless you enter the tiger's den, you cannot take the cubs"