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