Getting to know

Simon Turner

Managing Director

Born in Leicester but raised in Yorkshire, Simon is an alumnus of Jacob Kramer College of Art – which is where he met Spiral’s creative director, Rob. He first worked as a graphic designer at Rodley Studios and took over Spiral in 1993, building it to what it is today. Mr T’s first love is design – but he’s also a bonafide petrolhead and loves anything to do with cars.

Where did it all begin for you?

I think I was drawn in by bold and colourful 80s advertising. The outpouring of creative design in that decade got under my skin and I just wanted to be involved – and possibly produce the kind of work that inspired clients and other designers. I was really motivated by what I saw all around me and I can remember how excited I was at the thought of being in the creative industry. I managed to blag my way on to what turned out to be a fantastic graphic design course – and when I left there I went straight into a junior designer position at a design and photography company called Rodley Studios. It was a fantastic place to start my career as it exposed me to nearly every aspect of the industry. I soaked it all up like a sponge and I’m eternally thankful to the team there for everything they taught me – it definitely started me off in the right direction.

How have things changed since then?

Design is always evolving. You can be sure it’ll keep changing – from the way it’s briefed to the style and media it is produced in – and the technology that’s used to create it. Design tells a visual story and as time has gone on I think these stories have contained less words and more imagery. Design is now an essential part of the delivery of messages and stories across all media and platforms. But good design should transcend these platforms – you need to utilise the capabilities of any media. You’ve also got to try and stay ahead of any potential changes to these spaces – and you need to be constantly aware of any emerging tech and new ways of communicating. Keep experimenting – and most importantly, present new thoughts and approaches to your clients. It’s our job to think around design for clients – and that also means thinking ahead.
Simon enjoys a night out with friends.

What does your typical working day look like?

Exciting and a little demanding! I like to start early and get my head round what needs doing before the rush starts. I’m also there to chat and say ‘good morning’ as everyone arrives or comes online – and I’m also ready to brief in any new work or discuss ongoing projects and goals for that day. Once the simple stuff is up and running, I’ll then pick off some of the more demanding projects. My main involvement tends to be in direction, costs, planning and client liaison. I get to juggle lots of different projects throughout the day, often jumping from one to another – or just pushing multiple ones forward at the same time. I enjoy the challenge of a busy day and I love completing tasks and ticking them off my list!

You mention planning. What’s your approach?

I plan everything – and then keep checking that everything’s going to plan. It’s simple but very effective! You can’t leave anything to chance and you have to take responsibility for anything you are controlling (and even some of the stuff you’re not). As a director, being fully accountable for certain business units comes with the territory. If you discover a problem, devise a solution – don’t just simply identify the problem. Clients and colleagues will appreciate that you helped to fix a problem – and most importantly that you did it with professionalism, enthusiasm and a positive attitude. That’s how you build a reputation as a person or business that gets things done. You’ve got to be 100% reliable and deliver every time without question.

Can you think of any complex projects you’ve worked through? How did your approach to planning keep these on track?

There are a few that come to mind – but one in particular looms large. The project demanded everything we could give it. It had the potential to go wrong at every stage – but we delivered fantastic results in the end. Spiral was commissioned to devise, design and construct a large-scale change management event. Even though the event had the potential to be very complex, the brief from the client was actually very simple: “make it look good” – and if you impress, then the Board will sign off on it… gulp! The physical size of the event was massive (the main plenary area was about three football pitches) and would host almost all of our client’s colleagues over two days. Our solution needed to bring together a check-in area, street food outlets, a 90 metre walkway, presentation stage and immersion zones in a way that would visually engage and excite attendees in a sensory way. This led to some pretty wild and wonderful creative thinking – but we still had to deliver these concepts in a real and functioning way. If you’ve ever built a towering perspex wall containing hundreds of balloons – or created gigantic inflatable lemons housing 40 people at a time – then you've come close to feeling my anxiety! To keep this whole project on track from concept to realisation, I led from the front and thought out and meticulously planned every stage. This was one of those projects that needed a single point of contact with the energy and vision to enthuse others and bring the whole thing together. I made sure I was visible at every stage and everyone knew to come to me for updates and guidance. I aged two years in the two months it took to deliver our solution – but I loved the whole experience and the event itself was a huge success.
Simon enjoys single malt whisky from around the world.

How do you balance creativity with delivering on time and on budget?

I think this is a conundrum that all creative studios juggle with. The solution is relatively simple but very hard to achieve – a bit like making a good soufflé! You have to know your budgets and timescales up front and inside-out – only then can you utilise your time effectively. Without this, you’ll fritter away the opportunity to explore and experiment – but with this knowledge you can allocate the maximum time you can to ideas generation and the creative stuff, which is the bit everyone likes the most. It’s my job to build this important creative time into each project, which means getting the budget right and allocating it effectively. A big part of that is using the expertise of the team around me correctly and calling on the right people at the right time to build that creative sparkle that our clients look for.

How important is that expertise at Spiral?

Getting and retaining the right people is the lifeblood of any agency. I’ve always understood this, so I put a lot of time and effort into recruiting and retaining some incredible people. I actually enjoy looking through CVs – they're like mini stories of people's lives and help me discover what they’ve been up to and what they excel at. When I get to meet them face-to-face, it’s an opportunity to go a step further and find out what makes them tick – and to discover if they are a good fit (and also to tell them all about Spiral – I never forget it’s a two-way thing). When I’m interviewing I want to get a feel for their personality as well as their attitude towards clients and colleagues. Added to this, a candidate’s problem-solving abilities and approach to life are very important too. Design is not just about getting the right look, it’s also about taking everyone on the journey with you. Our superb team’s experience and knowledge underpin Spiral’s expertise – and I make sure to provide an environment and client base to enable them to showcase and grow their talents. It's a win-win situation.

Everyone at Spiral knows you love your cars – what's the craziest car-based adventure you've ever been on?

I do love a bit of adventure. There’s been a few crazy ones! Each year I go on at least one long distance driving tour across Europe with a group of mates. There’s five of us and we know each other really well, so that always leads to some wild and fun trips. The adventure comes in the fact that only one of us tends to know exactly where we are going and where we’ll stay every night! The only thing we do know is where in the UK we are meeting and roughly which countries we may visit. Every day after that is a surprise. Because of that, each trip turns out to be exciting and full of camaraderie – and most of the time we make it back in one piece.
Simon has a keen interest in supercars and drives them whenever he can.
Simon and his two sons at home.

What's the most interesting place you've ever travelled to?

That would be Cuba. It was like every movie I’ve ever seen filmed there. I just soaked up the country, the culture and the Cuban cigars – even though I don’t smoke! And don’t get me started on the cheap Mojitos. As I travelled around the country I stayed in everything from grand hotels to rooms in local's homes. It’s a place full of contradictions with 50s Americana and 70s Soviet Russia crossing over – but that made it even more intriguing.

Finally, what's the best advice you've ever received?

Always smile before you answer the phone 🙂