Paul Silburn was the creatives’ creative. He could whip out the huge, sticky ideas that people couldn’t help but talk about, work that was big on humour and big on humanity. His Twitter bio might read ‘I write ads. Sorry.’ but there was nothing apologetic about his creativity.
But as much as his work was admired, rewarded and respected – who can forget his deadpan John Smith ads, his pioneering viral for John West Salmon, or his audacious peak-flash mob T-Mobile spot that got a whole train station dancing? – he was also a very dear friend to many across London’s advertising industry, praised for his generosity and kindness in supporting the young creative talent who came after him.
When news of his death emerged late last week, the reaction among London’s creative community was one of numb shock.
Paul started his career at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson, where he was partnered with Tiger Savage and worked on Nike. At BBH he turned the little known Lynx into a staple brand for teenage boys, coining The Lynx Effect. At Leo Burnett in the early 2000s, he pioneered the online viral video with perennially silly ‘Bear’ spot for John West Salmon. In 2008, when at RKCRY&R, he tricked Britons into believing that penguins really could fly. He spent eight years at Saatchi & Saatchi, where he was ECD then co-Chief Creative Officer, where he worked on all sorts of brilliant campaigns - we'll always have a soft spot for the Hank Marvin Wall's work.
His wit and warmth will be sorely missed. We spoke to Chris Palmer, Tiger Savage and Mark Tutssel about their memories of working - and laughing - with Paul.
Chris gave Paul his first job in the industry at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson, where he was co-founder.
Paul had one of the sharpest, quickest and wittiest brains of anyone I've ever met.
When I interviewed him at Simons Palmer he arrived with a huge pile of headlines on marker pad pages.
Every one was ridiculously good. Probably better than most things in the D&AD annual that year.
I couldn’t understand why he wasn't already working as an award-winning writer at a top agency.
So, we gave him a job there and then.
When I last spoke to him a few weeks ago he was still as bright and clever as he was on that day.
Tiger was Paul’s creative partner at SPDC&J and at BBH, and she shares her memories of making fun, risky creative.
I was only with Paul at the beginning of careers, but I like to think we enjoyed some of the best of times. We were partnered up at Simons Palmer, before the agency ‘politics' years and ‘grown up’ commitments. Where we could have fun and take risks and just enjoy the day to day of being lucky enough to work with the amazing talents we admired and get in the sound booths (which he did often) or get his expressive face printed on some paraphernalia for a TV backdrop.
Everything he touched turned to gold or silver. I was looking at our archives and just in our time we won 21 D&AD Pencils of various colours, our first yellow with “Cut in the Sixties” for Levi’s. And that’s just D&AD’s not counting any other poster or press awards of the time.
We were having the times of our lives, lucky enough to be in the best agency in town, winning clients, awards and having so much fun working with actors and talents of our dreams and just creating, making things, albeit commercials, posters to launch Nike before Nike really was on the map. The coolest brand on the planet.
When the rug was abruptly pulled from under our feet and Chris Palmer and Mark Denton were ousted from the agency we decided to vote with our feet and leave too. Only to find ourselves with job offers from the top five agencies! We knew straight away our new home was BBH and on the first day our brief was to make a commercial for Hugo Boss. Starring a Jose Mourinho-type footballer manager and his ‘dirty’ suit. Another pencil. Tick.
Phew! Then came Polaroid, more Levi’s and a then (little known) European brand came in the door called Axe. Now you know we may not have done the best TV (nice print ads) for Lynx but it was the strategy - ‘The Lynx Effect’ - that turned a men’s body spray brand into a billion dollar behemoth - with a campaign slogan that spanned over 20 years. If that doesn’t make him a legend, what does?
At his heart, Paul was a big softie. Only those who knew him best would know that. All I think he ever really wanted was to make people laugh. Feel warm inside. Move them and use that little bit we do to make them think and entertain, in whatever format. He loved music. Comedy, of course, was important but if you see a lot of his work is very emotive.
Paul has gone on to done some legendary work: John Smith, Stella, John West, T Mobile to name but a few, but for me he was a down to earth bloke who liked a good joke and wanted to try through his amazing talent to entertain the nation rather than viewers making a cup of tea in the break.
Paul, I miss you. I hope you’re making them laugh up there, it was a joy to work with you babe.
Shall we put some music on?
6.JohnSmiths_Babies_Rhombus MP4 copy 1 from Paul Sillburn on Vimeo.
Mark was creative director at Leo Burnett London, when he worked with Paul on the truly immortal John West ‘Bear’ spot.
He has been a close personal friend for 20 years. A man who truly believed in the power of creativity. He was so driven, yet so humble. I am devastated.
This film [John West ‘Bear’] is arguably 'The Godfather of the Viral Effect'.
It's the work of a comedic genius.
1.JohnWest_Bear_Rhombus MP4 copy 1 from Paul Sillburn on Vimeo.
Paul had the "human touch". His ability to weave ideas into popular culture was second to none.
A master of his craft and a consummate professional.
He was a phenomenal talent and a wonderful human being.
His body of work will live forever.
He will be sadly missed. My heart goes out to his family.