Deutsch Bets First ‘Outside’ CCO Will Be A Good Fit

When Peter Nicholson joins Deutsch on April 2 as its chief creative officer here, he will be the first “outsider” to be hired directly into the position at the Interpublic agency.

Like Kathy Delaney, a 13-year Deutsch veteran who held the CCO position since 1998 and whom he replaces, Nicholson is described by colleagues as seemingly “laid back,” but possessing a quiet confidence and intensity.

“I had a great chemistry with Kathy,” said Deutsch New York president Val DiFebo, to whom Nicholson will report after he arrives from JWT New York, where he is an ecd. “This one with Peter is different but equally as energetic. There’s something about our partnership that is infectious.”

The warm words notwithstanding, Nicholson knows he’s facing a formidable challenge. Not least because of what he describes as Deutsch’s reputation for being “scrappy and smart,” and exhibiting a certain “bravado.” Deutsch also has a notoriously insular culture, whose “newest” senior executives joined seven years ago and whose top leaders, such as DiFebo and her boss, CEO Linda Sawyer, have been there nearly two decades.

“The culture is ingrained in everyone and they’ve been there for so long,” Nicholson, 38, said last week. “I’m going to bring a twist to that, but what that is, I don’t know yet.”

Deutsch, where he will oversee a 100-person creative department, will be his second time at the helm of a creative department. The first time, at Publicis USA’s New York office in 2002, didn’t go smoothly. The shop was transitioning from Publicis Bloom to Publicis USA and absorbing staff and business from the soon-to-be shuttered Publicis Mid-America in Chicago, where Nicholson had been a cd before transferring to New York.

Add the D’Arcy merger, begun in 2002, followed by David Droga’s March 2003 arrival as CCO of Publicis Worldwide, and Nicholson said his role became muddied, to say the least. He left in September 2004.

“People say they’re ready to run an agency, but I don’t think you’re ever ready the first time you do it,” Nicholson said of the Publicis experience, where he worked primarily on Heineken. “I made lots of mistakes that I will never make again. You have to make quick decisions, not waver on them and really defend them. You can’t make yourself a leader. You have to earn it.”

Besides Publicis and JWT, he has held creative positions at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Leagas Delaney, both in San Francisco. At JWT, Nicholson partnered with Jeremy Postaer, overseeing creative on Diageo’s Smirnoff, JetBlue, Rolex (a global client) and Cadbury Adams’ Stride gum.

DiFebo expects him to bring his “multichannel” thinking to the creative process at Deutsch, which has been on an upswing of late.

“When you look at the body of work he’s been responsible for, like JetBlue, where they are redesigning the space at the terminal, that’s not advertising,” DiFebo said. “That’s about creating branded experiences for consumers at different touch points. He can attract and inspire great talent across the board.”

DiFebo said the chemistry with Nicholson was established at their second meeting, over coffee, in late December at Viceroy, a trendy café not far from Deutsch’s Chelsea headquarters. It was there she learned that he grew up in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown, and co-owned a pizzeria before pursuing an ad career.

Nicholson, who lives in Rye, N.Y., said, “Creative is ultimately the most important thing, but it has to serve the business purpose of the clients.”

Said one exec familiar with Nicholson: “He’s unproven in the position. He had a little taste of it at Publicis. He can do it. It just remains to be seen how he does it at Deutsch.”

—with Andrew McMains