On graduating from Manchester University, Shimon Cohen’s first job
was as community youth officer at a north London synagogue. His habit of
phoning the local paper as well as the Jewish Chronicle to publicise
events caught the eye of the then chief rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, who was
conscious that his own message needed to stretch beyond the Jewish
Cohen joined his office and, on the day he turned 23, was offered the
post of private secretary.
Eight years down the line, Cohen wasn’t really sure that what he was
doing with Lord Jakobovits counted as PR until Tim Bell pointed it out
to him. But, seeing in Cohen someone with bags of natural ability at
communicating, Bell didn’t waste any time in offering him a full-time
’I’m pretty much part of the furniture now,’ says Cohen who after ten
years with the agency is set to take on a new role within the Chime
Formerly senior consultant at consumer arm Green Moon, Cohen is taking
over as its chief executive at the same time as the unit is being
rebranded Bell Pottinger Public Relations. Clients include Sega,
Sportal, which produces the official Euro 2000 web site, and Lucozade
Sport. This means Cohen works with Arsenal, as well as foreign glamour
clubs such as St Etienne and Sampdoria. ’I absolutely adore football,’
he says. Despite this, he supports Cardiff City.
In all Cohen spent eight remarkable years working for Lord
’It was the most exciting time of my life,’ he says. Indeed, looking at
his career to date, it is tempting to conclude that no period could
match it again. His relationship with Lord Jakobovits was close ’beyond
words,’ he says. He met world leaders with the chief rabbi and Cohen was
still writing speeches for him until his death.
Anything else then must seem a little, well, lightweight. So is his work
now - however stimulating - just a job?
’It’s an interesting question,’ he says, to which the short answer, as
you might expect, is ’no’. The longer answer is revealing. He does not
believe that his work could be viewed as a comedown from his previous
Cohen has a scrapbook at home containing pictures of him with Thatcher
and Gorbachev, and is hugely proud of it. ’Those years were an amazing
part of my life. To some extent, those type of jobs are fantasy jobs,
and you know they are going to end,’ he says.
Knowing that Bell Pottinger has got stories on the evening news or in
the newspapers gives him satisfaction now, he says. He is still
creating, developing and promoting a message, which he loves doing. ’I
get the same buzz and pride as I did then,’ he says. ’It’s different but
I’m a realist. It’s no comedown.’
In 1996, Cohen took a year out to run Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s private
office at the Really Useful Group, his appointment coinciding with
Lloyd-Webber’s foray into food writing. Cohen, who lists eating out as a
hobby, advises that if you can’t be a restaurant critic yourself, be the
dining partner of someone who is. Whether this is luck or not, Cohen’s
success seems to stem from the knowledge that there are other, more
important things in life than instant wealth, but that you are more
likely to find financial success if you dedicate yourself to goals you
believe in. He confesses candidly to finding some dot.com whizzkids
rather dull, for example - ’a bit too single-minded, a bit too focused
on instant wealth’.
’My family is as important to me as my work,’ he continues. The arrival
of his daughter, born three months ago, has only confirmed that -
sleepless nights and all. But then there is tired and there is tired, he
says. ’Jetlag is the most dull, negative tired; this is the most
wonderful, positive tired.’
Cohen is visibly excited about his new role. ’You can wear the Bell
Pottinger label with a lot of pride,’ he says. ’It’s a massive vote of
confidence, but it’s also a challenge. Now the company has to operate in
a Bell Pottinger style.’
There will be continuity, he says, as all his existing clients are
staying with him. There will also be ’a little bit of reorganisation’ -
but he points out, reasonably enough, that Green Moon has sat happily
enough within Lord Bell’s empire since 1994.
Cohen is affable, but undeniably passionate. You won’t find him at the
top of any internal organisational chart, he says, but you will find him
in the middle of the team. He believes leadership means taking people
along with him rather than just ordering them about. He is also ’driven
by happiness’ rather than the pursuit of money.
Many people say things like this. With Shimon Cohen, you get the
impression that he really means it.
Director, Chief rabbi’s office
Consultant, Bell Pottinger
Director of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s private office
CEO, Bell Pottinger Public Relations.