MEDIA HEADLINER: Footie fan appointed to pump ideas into the Catalyst launch - Why Simon Sadie gave up his Beeb post to return to Mediapolis. By John Owen

On Wednesday night last week, Tottenham Hotspur’s mini-renaissance stuttered to a halt with a 1-0 defeat by Leeds. On the Thursday morning, Simon Sadie’s new agency was awarded two out of ten in Campaign’s school reports for 1997.

On Wednesday night last week, Tottenham Hotspur’s mini-renaissance

stuttered to a halt with a 1-0 defeat by Leeds. On the Thursday morning,

Simon Sadie’s new agency was awarded two out of ten in Campaign’s school

reports for 1997.

Sadie, arch Spurs fan and would-be architect of Mediapolis’s

renaissance, prefers to look on the bright side. ’Last year was a bit of

an annus horribilis on the sporting front for me,’ he muses. ’Maybe

things will get better this year.’

While Sadie’s optimism for Christian Gross and the boys may be a tad

misplaced, one suspects he’s on safer ground in his professional


Mediapolis’s poor mark was a direct result of the loss of the

prestigious Peugeot-Citroen account. The extent of the blow to agency

morale - and income - should not be underestimated, but Mediapolis has

not been transformed into a poor operation overnight. The arrival of

Sadie to work alongside Peter Bowman and Phil Danter in the nattily

named new planning offshoot, Catalyst, is designed to reinvigorate the


Sadie’s brief is innovation. He’s the ideas man, the creative spark, the

David Ginola of the Media-polis midfield. Judging by the way Bob Offen,

the agency’s chief executive, eulogises about his new recruit as he

briefs Campaign on the launch of Catalyst, it is quite possible he

thinks he’s just bought Pele.

’Simon is the most creative person I’ve come across,’ Offen


’I love you,’ Sadie says, somewhat sheepishly, from just across the


It’s a love affair that isn’t new. Sadie spent three-and-a-half years at

Mediastar and Mediapolis (as it became known in late 1996) before

becoming the BBC’s first head of advertising for its online Beeb service

more than 12 months ago. Sadie went to Beeb because he had become

frustrated by the ’process-driven’ nature of the job on the Citroen

account. But Offen couldn’t let his protege stay away for long - ’he

shares my interest in IT and was the guy who ran the Fantasy Football

League within Mediapolis. Which is very important.’

Sadie’s anorak credentials established, I go in search of more tangible

signs of his creativity. The job at Beeb was certainly a creative


’We started with no brand, no product even,’ Sadie says. A year on, he’s

helped build a distinctive Web brand, but it’s still too early to label

it a success or failure commercially. Has he really achieved what he set

out to?

’No,’ is his honest reply. ’I’m leaving because Bob built a job for me

and asked me to do it. He’ll pay me, not to have line responsibility for

getting the process right on an account, but to bring innovation and

creativity to the whole of Mediapolis’s business. I agonised over this

for weeks. Was I going to miss this opportunity? My heart said ’no way’.

But part of me will forever be gutted that I didn’t deliver Beeb’s full


Sadie showed more concrete signs of creativity during his first spell at

Mediapolis. As well as knuckling down on Citroen, he worked on a number

of small accounts, notably the COI’s blood donors campaign - which

involved placing six months’ worth of small newspaper ads featuring a

heart-shaped ’thermometer’ showing current blood stock levels next to

habit-forming items such as crosswords. The campaign was designed to

highlight the need to give blood habitually, rather than just in times

of emergency. It worked and he’s proud of it.

There was also an admirable originality about the way he landed his

first job in the industry with Austin West - begging his way out of the

well-paid tedium of accountancy at Touche Ross, and accepting a salary

that was ’less than my last expenses cheque’.

Having helped Benckiser see off Procter & Gamble’s attack on its

dishwasher detergent market share, he leapt aboard the good ship

Mediastar the day after getting engaged to Jo. ’Our wedding night was

during the World Cup finals,’ her misty-eyed husband reminisces. ’We

stayed at an amazing hotel. The first thing I did when we got into the

room was turn on the Spain-South Korea game. It finished 0-0.’

Not much evidence of creativity there, but his two other passions in

life are far more encouraging: Classic FM and Radio 4. His family was

very keen on music and he plays the violin and the euphonium. Quite

where his love of the Archers comes from is anyone’s guess. ’Oh, the

Archers at the moment,’ he enthuses in the way soap fans do. ’Sorry,’ I

say, ’What about it?’ ’John’s died!’ he exclaims, shocked at my

ignorance. ’It was so emotional, I had to stop the car on the way


So there you have it. What greater proof of a creative temperament could

you possibly need?


1992: Austin West, media assistant

1993: Mediastar, media planner/buyer

1996: Mediapolis, associate director

1997: BBC, head of advertising for Beeb

1998: Catalyst, director of media innovation