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 office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, died of heart failure Jan. 7 at age 82. The news was confirmed by the 4As, which supplied most of the following information about his life and career.
Gibbons garnered a reputation as a brilliant marketing strategist who artfully combined ideas from copywriters, art directors and broadcast producers into client campaigns.
In recent years, Gibbons headed agency consultant ADvice that counseled agencies nationwide on how to be more efficient, profitable and successful in winning new accounts.
But in a business where insecurity and stress rampages through posh offices and claustrophobic cubicles, Gibbons was best known for his kindness of spirit, generosity and perpetually positive attitude.
“People were important to Jerry and he didn’t just collect them because it added to his prestige,” says Stuart Montgomery who headed Time magazine’s ad sales in Northern California for over 25 years. “He liked interesting people and he kept in touch with them regularly.”
Gibbons was born in Coalinga, CA. 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, CA for two years. Afterwards, he returned to San Jose State, switched majors to advertising and after graduating was hired as a mail room clerk in Young & 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 & Associates where he met Robert C. Pritikin, a young copywriter creative director. The two hit it off and launched Pritikin & Gibbons Communications positioning it as a creative, risk-taking, boutique shop.
The agency was later sold to N.W. Ayer 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 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 4As was looking for a western regional executive vice president in 1992, it sought out 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 the 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 longtime member of its board.
In 2005, he was named Admark Advertising Person of the Year by the San Francisco Advertising and Marketing Association.
Gibbons loved the outdoors and the ranch life. He and his wife of 56 years, Val, who survives him, spent most weekends on their property in the Napa hills tending to their horses and mending fences.
Gibbons is also survived by his three children, Scott Gibbons, Cristin Gibbons and Trisha Ashworth, five grandchildren and many beloved nieces and nephews. He was proceeded in death by his younger brother Jimmy and older brother Earle.
A celebration of his life will be held Feb. 17, from 3-5 pm at Golden Gate Yacht Club, San Francisco. Donations may be made to Bay Area Advertising Relief Committee www.baarc.com or to the Marine Mammal Center at www.marinemammalcenter.org.