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What I’ve Learnt: John-Paul Simpson, Director and Chair, Zircom


John-Paul is a globally experienced marketing professional who is chair of the North West Board for the Chartered Institute of Marketing on top of his senior role at Zircom.

Wirral-based Zircom works with brands including BMW, Shell and B2B International, providing a comprehensive range of services from branding to e-learning and internal communications.

For more than 20 years, Zircom has been a leading agency in the region, and went employee-owned in 2018

Simpson told us about some of the lesson’s he’s learnt from his long career in marketing.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I record and review timesheets for myself and colleagues so everyone knows where our shared value is being generated.

What’s been your luckiest break?

Getting into Bristol University with A-level grades that didn’t justify a place, feeling totally at home there, meeting great people, getting a job with the Students’ Union, and living next door to my future wife.

What’s your best failure?

All the jobs I did in my 20s before leaving the UK to go travelling in South East Asia. I wasn’t very good at any of them.

In my defence I was transitioning from a life scientist (geology) to a marketer through self-learning and various Diplomas, including the Chartered Institute of Marketing. But failing became the drive to succeed when I got back and got a job with Forte Hotels.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

Investing time in my children has to be the best, but after that it has to be starting and developing my business, Zircom.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Any book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I’m currently reading ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott, ex-Google and Apple, and it’s reminded me how important it is to work on relationships at work.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to understand yourself (the good bits and the not so good bits). Listen to your instincts and design your working life around your values. Then stick at whatever you do until you can do a few things better than anyone else.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

Barbara Beckett was the Marketing Director at Forte Hotels, and whilst my time there was always intense and sometimes stressful, I learnt most of my Consumer Marketing and Travel Sector skills from Barbara, the agencies she brought on board like Saatchi’s and WCRS, and my direct boss Robin Dobson.

Adam Crozier was my media buyer at Saatchi’s and went on to be CEO of Saatchi’s, the FA, and ITV, so I worked with some really talented people. Without Barbara and Robin’s influence and support, I wouldn’t have had the confidence and skills to make an impact in my work after that. So I owe them big time.

I need to mention my parents, even though they never ran a business or worked in the private sector. My mum was a French teacher and my dad was a lawyer who had an important job for the County Council that didn’t sound like it was important – Deputy County Clerk. I didn’t really learn from their work – but more by absorbing their interests and attitude. I learnt to enjoy new experiences, to not moan, to be fair and humble – values that have helped me lead people in an agency setting.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I was a backing singer for Barry Manilow whilst at Sixth Form College (along with the rest of the College Choir for one night only at Bingley Hall, Stafford). He was a true professional and a really nice guy.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

I’m not sure it will make work better. The flexibility that everyone is talking about was already there in good businesses, and near empty-offices and working from home isn’t good for early-career stage professionals who need to watch and learn from others in action, or for generating drive in an entrepreneurial sense, or for collaborating and generating ideas.

What does success look like to you?

In my personal life, success is my children leaving home well equipped to deal with their future.

Professionally, it’s creating value through the work I do and, in the process, making a difference to people’s lives. Specifically, I’d like to ensure that the transition from founder-led agency to employee-owned agency is successful.

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