Is Paul Simons the right man to bring new lustre to Ogilvy & Mather’s tarnished reputation?
Because tarnished it is, in the UK. Why this should be is not altogether evident at first sight. O&M has a steady, dependable reputation – the sort that admen hate and senior clients love – which has sustained its position near the top of the UK billings league far more reliably than the likes of Young & Rubicam, McCann-Erickson or Bates Dorland in recent years. This may have something to do with its creative product being rather better than industry opinion (as reflected, for example, through our own Agency Reputation surveys) will allow.
But the perception of decline in the last year is unmistakable. Yes O&M has, as its apologists point out, had more than its fair share of new business wins, including Eurotunnel, COI accounts and Ragu. But compare these with the losses: Guinness might have been passed off as a misfortune, but Ford, Duracell, Bupa and Woolwich looked like sheer carelessness.
The cause, at one level, has been a growing management vacuum in the UK after Mike Walsh, European chief executive, became more fully involved in international commitments. The effective dismissal of UK deputy chairman and chief executive Tom Bury last January was an implicit recognition that the home-grown response to this development was not going to work.
So Simons arrives as chief executive at a highly opportune moment, for himself as well as for the agency. If he succeeds in putting O&M back on track he will walk on water. What are his chances of achieving this revered status? It depends how well he plays to his strengths.
Simons undoubtedly brings glamour and personality to a rather bland agency image. He is, after all, one of the best-known faces in adland. Few would question his experience in running a difficult business or, for that matter, his dynamism. The success of the agency he set up is ample testimony to that. And to something else which O&M will find invaluable: he’s an ardent champion of creativity, even when that means taking risks.
But Simons entrepreneurial streak could also prove his undoing. Self-starting qualities are all very well – especially in a crisis – but can easily be mistaken for naked personal ambition. O&M has a powerful collegiate culture which he will alienate at his peril. Simons will not unreasonably wish to introduce his own senior managers and to run things his way. But he should be very careful how he does it.
Cover Story, page 24