Christmas Feature Scotland

Simon Farrell Profile

By The Drum | Administrator

July 28, 2005 | 8 min read

“Basically there were two things I was interested in: Marketing and beer,” laughs Simon Farrell, the new managing director at stalwart Scottish design consultany Tayburn. “I couldn’t see myself marketing soap powder. I couldn’t get passionate about that. But with beer I could be. So those were the two areas that I went to for a job.”

Farrell is in good spirits. As The Drum sits down to have a chat around Tayburn’s impressive boardroom table, Farrell is now four weeks into his new job and things seem to be going well. There’s some distance now between the managing director and the graduate who walked out of the University of Sheffield looking for a future in marketing and beer.

Graduating with first class honours in business studies, Farrell initially applied for jobs at brewing companies and ad agencies before finding a job at BDH, in Manchester, where he was hired as an account manager.

Four years later the ambition of working for a brewer was realised when an opportunity arose in S&N’s marketing team. During seven years Farrell worked in a variety of marketing roles at the company, ending up as brand operations director for an experimental chain of coffee and sandwich shops. After 13 sites were located and staff were recruited and trained, S&N decided to pull the plug, which gave Farrell itchy feet.

“They were fantastic to me,” he says. “I got a really good career out of them. They invested in an MBA programme for me, but when [the closure] happened I felt disillusioned, and felt it was time for the next challenge, which was The Chase.”

Farrell met Ben Casey, boss of the Manchester and London design agency The Chase, by chance, but the meeting proved fortunate for both men. Casey was keen to expand The Chase’s strategic expertise and Farrell was just the man to help him do it. He comments: “During my time at BDH and S&N I had learned a lot. I had the client background, the agency background, I’d done my MBA; so I had quite a good strategic understanding of most marketing issues.”

Taking up the role of business development and strategy director at The Chase, Farrell played a key role in what turned out to be a strong period of growth for the agency.

After four-and-a-half years, however, things were happening outside of the work arena that would have a strong impact on Farrell’s career. Now married, Farrell and his wife Gillian started a family and, with Gillian’s family living in Scotland, moved North of the Border to be closer to them.

“Gillian’s got a big family up here so we just wanted to give it a go. I thought I could manage the to-and-from Manchester and London and working from home a couple of days,” he chuckles. “But I couldn’t.”

Still working for The Chase, the weekly trek down to the agency’s Manchester and London offices was proving a strain. Reluctantly both Farrell and his wife were preparing to make the move back down South when opportunity came a-knocking. Farrell said: “I hadn’t really considered looking for another job. Things were going well at The Chase, and as far as I could see if I was going to move anywhere it would have to be quite a big role; and I just couldn’t see those sort of opportunities coming up anytime soon.”

This assessment turned out to be wrong when a recruitment consultant called to ask if Farrell would be interested in meeting with a Scottish design consultancy that was looking for a managing director.

“When I found out it was Tayburn I was like, wow,” says Farrell. “It’s not only a good role in a good market, it’s with a fantastic agency. So I was very excited.”

After negotiations lasting around a month, Farrell signed on to become Tayburn’s MD, a decision which meant parting with some good friends at The Chase. He said: “We’d had a good five years, and over that five-year period things had grown and grown. It was hard. I still speak to them and I’d like to think they miss me, but I remember telling Ben, and he and some other people there said, ‘You can’t turn it down. You can’t not do it.’ I think everybody realises it’s a good thing. It was sad, and it was hard to say, but it wasn’t really a hard decision to make. It was a no-brainer really.”

Farrell took up the role of managing director on 26 June, and has since been immersing himself in the business and the Scottish marketplace.

“Primarily my role’s about the continued growth and success of the business,” Farrell explains. “Tayburn has always been a very strategic company and goes about its design in a very strategic way. Obviously creativity’s important, but it is about the role that design can play in improving people’s businesses. Having that strategic perspective and taking it forward is important.”

Tayburn is an agency that already brings most of its income in from outside of Scotland, and this is something Farrell is keen to build on. He said: “One of the interesting aspects to Tayburn is the aspiration for the future. I get a sense that a lot of Scottish agencies have this: the aspiration to grow outside of Scotland, and not just England but further afield. You can easily fly now to France, Holland, Italy or Scandinavia. With more flights available those markets are much more accessible.

“Tayburn already has good relationships with Diageo in Holland and has a partnership with a Turkish design agency. Those sort of international aspirations are interesting.”

In his first four weeks Farrell has seen a lot that he likes at Tayburn, and seems confident he can build on the company’s success. He comments: “One of the differences between Tayburn and The Chase, and one of the things that really appeals to me, is that the company is focused in quite disciplined areas, in terms of consumer and corporate branding, reporting and stakeholder reporting and marketing, which is good because it means you’ve got some very skilled and knowledgeable people in those areas. It means you can concentrate on increasing those skills rather than trying to be all things to all men.

“I’m not sure what people’s perceptions of Tayburn are. I’m sort of feeling my way around. But I get a sense that if clients know what I know now they’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s really telling the story, getting it out there and hopefully they will be pleased and will want to work with us.”

The admiration also extends to Tayburn founder and chief executive, Erick Davidson. The two men will work closely together in the coming months, after which time Davidson will hand over the day-to-day running of the agency to Farrell.

“You don’t find many owners or leaders of design agencies showing that forward-thinking about protecting the future of the agency and having some sort of succession planning,” says Farrell. “They tend to go as long as they can and then say ‘I’ve had enough’ and sell up. So I think I’ve been really fortunate to benefit from Erick’s forward-thinking.”

Farrell also has a lot of respect for his Scottish rivals. Both in his short time at Tayburn, and during his tenure at The Chase, he has been impressed by Scotland’s creative agencies. And as confident as he is in Tayburn, Farrell is under no illusions about the competitiveness of the Scottish market. He said: “When you look at the market as a whole Scotland is blessed with some very good competitors,” he laughs. “Unfortunately. You look at the Roses Awards and you look at the size of the companies and you’ve got some relatively big agencies in the market. You’ve only got one Chase in Manchester, one Elmwood in Leeds, and yet you’ve got three or four similar-sized operations in Edinburgh, plus all the others. The standard is very high and the competition is fierce.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

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