NEW YORK Bill Nicholson, the former evp of the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ management services division, died on April 24 at the age of 64 after a four-month battle with cancer.
Nicholson (pictured), considered an authority on management issues, gained his experience at a number of prominent agencies during his three decades in the business.
After leaving the 4A’s in 2005 he was a founding partner in the advertising consultancy A-Team Advisors.
“Bill loved the agency business, and was a passionate and tireless advocate for its contribution to our society and our economy,” Jerry Gibbons, principal at A-Team Advisors and a former 4A’s executive, reflected. “What was unique about Bill is that he was able to sit down with agency CEOs and CFOs and help them deal with any of the issues before them. He excelled at that, whether their agency was just five people or one of the mega-shops. His perspective of our industry was broad, but he understood it thoroughly and was able to drill down to the smallest details. He’ll be truly missed.”
Nicholson worked at the 4A’s for five years, where he provided consulting services and support in management, new business, finance, human resources and technology.
Most notably, Nicholson’s codification of the concept of sequential liability — which outlines agency responsibility for contracts and expenses executed or incurred on behalf of clients — has been seen as the definitive statement on the practice.
Nicholson also launched the 4A’s Small and Midsize Agencies Executive Workshop and supervised the publication of industry position papers on topics like performance planning, improving agency-client relationships, new business best practices, risk management and trends in international advertising.
Nicholson, who had previously worked at both client organizations and at ad agencies, also oversaw the publication of two reports that were jointly published by the 4A’s and the Association of National Advertisers that dealt with establishing operational ground rules for search consultants and outlining best practices in the shop selection process.
A native of New York, Nicholson served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Afterwards, he joined Pan Am World Airways in a customer service role and during that time he graduated from Saint John’s University with a B.S. and M.B.A. in business and finance. He passed the CPA exam in 1976 and moved into internal auditing and corporate accounting for Pan Am, where he rose to the post of director of corporate accounting, followed by chief accounting officer.
Nicholson later spent five years as controller of Seiko watches. He was subsequently recruited into the advertising business and held the post of CFO at both Bozell and Lintas and played integral roles at both Kornhauser & Calene and Cunningham & Walsh.
During Nicholson’s agency career he was responsible for financial and internal operations and oversaw the integration of “through-the-line” subsidiaries and affiliated companies. He frequently wrote and spoke on issues facing the industry and, representing agencies’ interests, often worked with advertisers to optimize industry-wide practices. He was also a leading voice in countering questionable consulting and advertiser practices.
Nicholson is survived by his wife of 21 years, Nancy; his daughter from a previous marriage, Dina Johnson, and her husband, Hartley; his stepdaughter Anne Mack, and her husband Colin; his stepson Alex Hulse, and his wife Sara; his two grandchildren William and Andrew Johnson; and four step-grandchildren, Charlotte Mack, Grace Mack, Colby Mack and Tristan Mack; and a nephew, John Nicholson, his wife Diane and their two children Emily and Matthew.
A memorial service is planned for Tuesday, May 19 at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Incarnation, 209 Madison Ave. at 35th Street in New York.
The family has requested that expressions of sympathy be made in the form of contributions to Church of the Incarnation, 209 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; All Souls Church, Post Office Box 451, Tannersville, N.Y. 12485; or Hospice Care Network/The Hospice Inn Fund, 99 Sunnyside Blvd., Woodbury, N.Y. 11797.