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Remembering Tom Bick and What He Taught Me

Published on .

Tom Bick
Tom Bick Credit: Kraft

Tom Bick, who pushed innovative digital advertising campaigns at Kraft's Oscar Mayer brand before taking the VP-marketing job at Duluth Trading Co., died this week of a heart attack. He was 52. Bick, a Wisconsin native, was well-known and highly respected in the Midwestern marketing community and had a reputation for getting multiple agencies to work cooperatively on standout marketing campaigns. He joined Kraft in 2011 after stints at Hill Holliday and Miller Brewing Co.

Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i, who worked closely with Bick when he was at Kraft, shared the following perspective on what Bick's life and career meant to her:

I learned the devastating news yesterday that Tom Bick, a former client and someone I considered a friend and inspiring partner, died of a heart attack.

I never thought the kosher girl from Long Island would form a bond with a bacon and ham marketer in Wisconsin. But Bick, as he called himself, was one of the best and most brave marketers I've ever met. He wasn't self-promotional and didn't seek the spotlight, but his talent most certainly deserves to be honored, if only posthumously.

Bick was a larger-than-life character, but four things in particular stood out:

It wasn't about him but about the work: While you may not know Bick by name, you know his work because he put it above all else. His bacon campaigns collected Effies, Cannes Lions and more, but what mattered to him is that they drove sales in the supermarket. He wasn't on the cover of the trades, collecting awards or on the speaker circuit. He focused the spotlight on the work itself. Now that he's gone, we have to shine a light on him to inspire all of us.

His calculated risks could have gotten him fired: At the time we started working with him, Kraft Foods had certain firm beliefs, one of which was the 80/20 working/non-working media split. [Editor's note: "nonworking media" generally refers to what it costs to make advertising, while "working media" is the cost to buy ads.] Bick challenged that thinking, betting that if he invested in ideas that had talk value and were social by design, the investment in the non-working would yield a much greater return on investment, requiring less spend in paid media. He proved this out time and again, to the point that the then-chief financial officer stated on an earnings call that "Among Kraft's most productive marketing efforts has been its all-digital campaign for Oscar Mayer."

He relished healthy debate to achieve the best outcome: Bick challenged everyone around him, regardless of title. At first, one might misconstrue him as argumentative, but he was on a deep quest for the best possible outcome. His briefs were tighter than anything I had seen before in my career but they came from heavy-duty battles. It's a tough balance to continually debate without making people think they're on the skids, yet he created safe spaces for heated banter among competitive agencies and invited differing points of view, ultimately getting to the best outcomes. The quality of the work is a reflection of all of that.

Family was king: After he left Kraft, Bick could have gotten a job anywhere in the country. He had an impressive resume and a great portfolio. But his boys were in school and he stayed in Wisconsin so his family had stability. His priorities were always clear and he was true to himself and his family.

I'm often asked by employees which new brands we'd love to have on our roster. Before I met Bick, I'd say some of the usual suspects – the hero brands, the aspirational ones. But after working with Bick, I realized it's so much less about the brands you represent than it is the partnership with the people at them—their appetite for greatness, their progressive mindset, the courage of their conviction. Bick had all of those.

We lost a close friend with great integrity who left his mark on so many of us. Prayers to his family and may he rest in peace.

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