Kmart Corp. helped him decide to change jobs last year. And in late April that decision paid off with a promotion.
Mr. Simpson was promoted to director of client service at Doremus, New York, succeeding Lou Rubin, who became chief marketing officer as part of a management expansion. Doremus, part of Omnicom Group, has doubled billings in the last three years to $400 million and expanded beyond its original financial-services niche.
Mr. Simpson said his epiphany came during the Kmart Corp. review last year. As he explains it today, he saw many agencies-including his then-employer, WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co.-chasing Kmart's account, whether they had retail experience or not and regardless of what they had to offer the client.
"And here are the guys at Doremus, who are basically all up one alley and have a distinct identity," Mr. Simpson said.
After a career on both the client side and in account management, Mr. Simpson was already struggling with the lack of identity at large agencies, which tried to be all things to all people, when Doremus approached him. He was attracted to the idea of working on a shop focused on a core discipline, he said. At that time, he was worldwide account director at JWT, overseeing Warner-Lambert Co.'s Schick/Wilkinson, UDV North America and Nike.
"I met with Rubin and [exec VP Jeff] De Joseph, and the rest is history," he joked. He joined Doremus in September as senior VP-senior management representative.
It was Mr. Simpson's past career, starting with his stint as account manager for Crest toothpaste at Procter & Gamble Co., that drew the attention of Doremus' managers. At JWT, he had worked in Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa and Australia, in global account and general management positions.
"He's really a classically trained marketing guy," Mr. Rubin said. "We've grown up so much we need people who understand marketing, not only financial services."
Even though Doremus is expanding its own base, Mr. Simpson's views its new clients as a logical extension of the agency's corporate-image work. While retaining its financial-services focus, Doremus has expanded in the last three years into tech advertising and corporate-image work, adding corporate-image accounts for nonfinancial clients such as Hitachi Ltd., Corning and ITT Industries. A San Francisco office, opened in 1999, handles tech clients such as Hitachi, Ricoh Co.'s Ricoh Silicon Valley and software company Saba.com.
Recently, Doremus has begun taking on strategy-only assignments to create corporate image ideas for clients on a consulting basis.
The new appointments will let Mr. Rubin work more closely with clients to promote Doremus' vehicles to develop their brands across media. Or as he puts it: "I have the privilege of throwing hand grenades," exploding traditional media to create multimedia plans in a market that is evolving beyond black-and-white tombstone ads.
For example, a year ago, Doremus created a corporate TV ad for ITT Industries that could be watched with the sound turned off to reach Wall Street offices where executives use muted TVs during market hours as video tickers.
The agency's growth curve-20% annual growth in the last five years-left Mr. Rubin wearing two hats, directing account management and generating new business. With Mr. Simpson along, "we have twice as much brain power," he said.