NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Five years after Peter Nicholson joined JWT, New York as an executive creative director, and three years after he left to head to Deutsch and then Redscout, he's returning to the office -- by far the biggest of the WPP-owned network's 200 hubs across 90 countries -- to serve as its chief creative officer.
The 42-year-old Mr. Nicholson, who most recently served as CCO at MDC Partners' Redscout, fills a spot left vacant earlier this year by Ty Montague.
Ironically, Mr. Montague was the one responsible for hiring Mr. Nicholson at JWT in 2005 after he built his portfolio at shops like Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Publicis. Mr. Nicholson stayed at JWT until 2007, partnering with creative Jeremy Postaer on work for clients like Cadbury, Diageo and Rolex. More recently, he spent a couple years as the top creative at Deutsch's New York office until its merger with Lowe, and in April of this year he was named CCO at Redscout.
The year-end inking of a contract with Mr. Nicholson concludes a search that JWT's Global CEO Bob Jeffrey and North American CEO David Eastman have been conducting for the better part of a year, under no small amount of pressure from clients, to replace Mr. Montague. Mr. Montague and former JWT senior exec Rosemarie Ryan left behind their duties overseeing JWT's U.S. region to launch their own venture, dubbed Co.
During the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June, Messrs. Jeffrey and Eastman held clandestine meetings with candidates for the New York chief creative post from all over the world in a suite in the Majestic Barriere hotel. It's understood some of those negotiations had reached an advanced stage in recent months but wound up falling through.
According to Mr. Eastman, those talks came after he had already approached Mr. Nicholson in late March. "Peter was the first person I spoke to and at that point it was already too late then. He'd either already signed or was ready to put pen to paper at Redscout. The good thing about meeting him then even though he wasn't available was that it set a benchmark and I ended up comparing everybody back to Peter."
Mr. Eastman says he had a laundry list of qualities he's been seeking in a chief creative. "I was looking for someone who is a superb conceptual thinker... and I also needed someone who embraced technology... I also needed someone who was great at new business because that's the lifeblood of any agency."
And, he added, he wanted someone "on their way up" who has not already "plateaued" in their career and was "coasting."
But the most important thing? "Someone who's not an egomaniac. Without naming names, I've worked with a few in the past. And it was important that this person realized that it's a team sport now... there has to be a certain degree of humility."
In the new post, effective January, Mr. Nicholson will report to Mr. Eastman. If his tenure as CCO of the New York office follows the one Mr. Montague's did, he's likely to have the ability to grow the current post into a North American creative role.
"Peter is someone we know and have a long relationship with," said Mr. Jeffrey. "He was really responsible for a lot of the innovative work" JWT has done in past years, citing former client JetBlue as an example. "Now that he's had some other experience ... he's coming into it with familiarity but also more diversity of experience, which makes him that much stronger. And there's not going to be a lot of time lost on basic stuff getting to know who we are."
For Mr. Nicholson, this means not only a return to JWT but also to a big agency life after six months at 50-person Redscout, which works with brands like Diageo and Kate Spade. Asked about his reasons for departing Redscout -- the second job change in the span of less than a year -- he would only say that it was "an awesome experience."
Of his new job, he said: "It's a really big opportunity and the challenge I'm looking at is how do you take something that's big like JWT and let's make it nimble, fast and collaborative ... to come up with business solutions for clients now, not to have to have six months or three months lead time."
"Big agencies have been getting beaten down for being slow, but they're not necessarily, if you get the right people together," he said.