By thesanfranciscoegotist / /
Jerry Gibbons, who broke into San Francisco’s fiercely competitive advertising world as a mailroom boy, rose to head several of the city’s most powerful ad agencies and led the western US office of the influential American Association of Advertising Agencies, died of heart failure Jan. 7 at age 82.
The polar opposite of the slick, silver tongued adman, Mr. Gibbons was the low-key marketing strategist who would take the copywriter’s ideas, the art director’s images, the broadcast producer’s radio or video commercial, sell them to the client as a campaign.
In recent years , he headed Gibbons ADvice that counseled owners of advertising agencies nationwide on how to be more efficient, profitable and successful in winning new accounts. It was an advisory expertise he developed over the decades in building San Francisco ad agencies and, later, assisting members of the AAAAs who wanted marketing and creative intelligence, insights and moneymaking ideas in exchange for their annual dues.
But in a business where insecurity and stress rampages through posh offices and claustrophobic cubicles, Mr. Gibbons was best known for his kindness of spirit, generosity and perpetually positive attitude. Colleagues say he was as comfortable with CEOs as he was with and junior account executives and seasoned media buyers.
“People were important to Jerry and he didn’t just collect them because it added to his prestige,” says Stuart Montgomery who headed TIME Inc. magazine’s space sales in Northern California for over 25 years. “He liked interesting people and he kept in touch with them regularly.”
Montgomery says Mr. Gibbons was a founding member of the Bay Area Advertising Relief Committee (BAARC). “I became president-chairman but Jerry was the true adult in the room and the angel on my shoulder. He was always very helpful with marketing strategies and BAARC benefitted greatly from them.”
According to Montgomery, he was an early booster to two waitresses who launched their own eatery, Betty Lou’s Seafood in San Francisco’s North Beach. “He even wrote some of their promotional copy and took friends there regularly.”
Mr.Gibbons was born in Coalinga, California. His father James Gibbons worked in the oil fields of Coalinga as a career long manager with Tidewater Oil Co. His mother, Hazel, was a homemaker. After high school, he enrolled at San Jose State University as a psychology major, left after a year to join the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Ord, California for two years. Afterwards, he returned to San Jose State, switched majors to advertising, graduated and was hired as a mail room clerk in Young and Rubicam’s San Francisco office.
He landed a job as a junior account executive with McCann-Erickson, then San Francisco’s biggest ad agency, moved to Dailey and Associates where he met Robert C. Pritikin, a young copywriter creative director. The two hit it off, hatched a plan to partner up as Pritikin & Gibbons Communications as a highly creative, risk-taking, boutique sized ad agency.
The new agency later sold to N.W. Ayer, America’s oldest advertising agency and Mr. Gibbons was named president. “Jerry was the perfect human being,” recalls Pritikin.”We were business partners for years and we never had one dispute. In pitches and in dealing with clients, he was Mr. Cool and never got flustered.”
During the 1980s, Mr. Gibbons was senior vice president at Foote Cone & Belding and president and chief executive at DDB/Needham, both in San Francisco, He was later president of Lewis & Partners, another Bay Area agency and then launched his own ad firm called the Gibbons & Dickens Group.
When the American Association of Advertising Agencies was looking for a western regional executive vice president in 1992, it sought out Mr. Gibbons. “He was known and highly respected by everyone in the advertising business,” remembers Brent Osborne, former head of radio sales at KSFO—AM/FM. “He didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
During his long career, Mr. Gibbons was actively involved in advertising community and beyond. He was a past president of the San Francisco Ad Club, Society of Communications Arts and Alpha Delta Sigma. He was a former board director of the Oakland Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, National Association of Visually Handicapped, U.S. Organization of Disabled Athletes, the Advertising Agency Federation. He was chair emeritus of the Marine Mammal Center and a long time member of its board.
In 2005, he was named Admark Advertising Person of the Year by the San Francisco Advertising and Marketing Association.
Mr.Gibbons was just as active away from work. He loved the outdoors and the ranch life. He and his wife spent most weekends on their property in the Napa hills tending to their horses and mending fences,
Mr. Gibbons is survived by his wife of 56 years, Val Gibbons, his three children -Scott Gibbons, Cristin Gibbons of and Trisha Ashworth, five grandchildren Brian Gibbons, Jessica Gibbons, Alexandra Ashworth. Pierce Ashworth and Julia Ashworth and many beloved nieces and nephews. He was proceeded in death by his younger brother Jimmy Gibbons and older brother Earle Gibbons.
A celebration of his life will be held Feb. 17, from 3-5 pm at Golden Gate Yacht Club, San Francisco,