NEWSMAKER/PAUL SIMONS: Why Simons believes he can rejuvenate a struggling O&M - Francesca Newland talks to Paul Simons about the future of Ogilvy & Mather

Did you feel squeezed out at TBWA?

Did you feel squeezed out at TBWA?

No. A plan was hatched last March in Los Angeles at a management


What we agreed then is what has happened. It was something that happened

with all players being willing. It was an intelligent, grown-up


How do you feel about severing links with the agency you set up?

It isn’t the agency I helped to set up. Simons Palmer probably

represents one third of the agency at Whitfield Street. We entered the

TBWA merger with our eyes open. I’m quite relaxed about it.

How do you feel about running a big corporate agency?

The big leap for me is going from an environment which has evolved over

time into an environment which already exists. After that, it will be

about providing clear leadership that works across a range of


That will be hard because there are a lot of people working there and a

lot of different clients with a lot of different needs. One of the most

potent things that can be injected into Ogilvy & Mather is clarity of


A lot of people admire a smaller, sexy brand and we built Simons Palmer

on that kind of positioning, but I’m not wedded to that being the only

way of doing things. My goal is to find the right approach to match

O&M’s culture at the same time as providing progression.

But how can you bring change while preserving what is there?

In an agency like O&M, 80 per cent is going to be working perfectly


I need to identify that 80 per cent and then find ways to add another 30

per cent. We’re not talking about O&M being 100 per cent broke are we?

All we are debating is whether it’s 70 per cent or 50 per cent that

needs fixing.

Do you know what works at O&M?

Not locally. But putting your finger on the thing which is going to make

the most difference isn’t hard to do once you’re walking around the

agency talking to people.

What’s gone wrong there?

First of all, you’re probably talking about a small decrease in margin -

new business has been really good. But I think too many things were

happening at the same time which causes distraction, combined with too

few people in the management team. There were too few people shouldering

too many demands for too long. Mike (Walsh) has got something like 70

other markets to think about.

How much responsibility should Mike Walsh take for last year’s downturn

at O&M?

Mike has a very big job to do and I think he’s been doing it with great

success. If you were trying to find a cause, perhaps the timing of Mike

focusing much more on Europe, leaving a void behind him, is one.

How are you going to stop all the reviews that have been going on?

According to Richard (Pinder), that has just about abated. He has been

running around with a bucket of sand in his hand like a fireman trying

to put out fires and he’s done a magnificent job.

For me, it’s back to basics for a while. I need to make sure the agency

is over-delivering in terms of quality in everything we do.

It’s about raising the bar of the high jump in planning, account

management and creative.

Then we will look at things to rebuild and new things to bring in to

O&M. Perhaps some different kinds of business. More domestic business

would be good.

Will you look at each individual relationship with each client?

We might create a shadow team on certain bits of business, with the

agreement of the client, where the shadow team says anything it likes in

order to move the game forward. You often get an account team scared to

say anything if a relationship is getting uneasy. They then resort to

’let’s just do what the client wants’, which is a downward spiral.

What’s your brief from Martin Sorrell?

I haven’t had one. I haven’t spoken to Martin but we are all singing off

the same hymn sheet. My aim is to be the biggest and the best. That

delivers everything that anybody could want. It’s not hard to add

incremental scale to take O&M up to the same kind of size as an Abbott

Mead. Being best is harder, but there’s no reason why we can’t do it.

Going back to Martin, I think that if in two years’ time Campaign was

giving O&M a nine out of nine rating, he would be very happy.

The industry is going through radical change and Ogilvy is well placed

to grab a pioneering position. If you look at what’s going on

internationally with O&M, it is taking initiatives which other agencies

aren’t. Ogilvy is the only major network that has a dedicated,

successful interactive operation in the US, for example.

What are the strengths of O&M?

I can answer that question corporately but I find it much harder to

answer locally, because I don’t know enough about the local issues. O&M

has been around for such a long time - that’s important to a lot of

major advertisers. Also, under Shelley Lazarus’s leadership, there’s a

strong entrepreneurial attitude.

Are you considering a move back to central London?

No, we are going in the opposite direction. We’re embracing Docklands,

so OgilvyOne is moving to Canary Wharf. Emotionally I would prefer to be

in the West End but I don’t regard it as a big issue.

What management changes are you planning to make?

There are too few people. So I will bring in people and promote others

to augment what is already there.

Has O&M got a clear positioning?

The 360-degree approach is probably the best articulation of what O&M

can provide clients. But I don’t necessarily believe that that’s a

mission statement. I think the whole mission statement area is a


Leader, p31.


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