’A truly British occasion’ is how Basil Bicknell, the chairman of
London 2000, describes the forthcoming International Advertis-ing
Association World Congress. With London hosting the event for the first
time since 1967 and David Hanger, the British publisher of The
Economist, about to be elected as the IAA world president, such
patriotic pride is well placed indeed.
Winning the task of hosting the millennial conference is a real feather
in the cap of the UK chapter of the IAA and one that has been a long
time coming. For years the UK members were stuck on the sidelines of the
organisation, suffering from a reputation as a drinking club for old
has-beens who had been shoved aside into what was euphemistically called
an ’international role’.
Bicknell appears to fit the stereotype perfectly. A pinstriped-suited,
monocle-wearing major in the Territorial Army, he has all the
credentials of the stiff upper-lipped Englishman. The first impression
on meeting him is that he would be more suited to whiling away the hours
in a gentleman’s club than jetting around the world persuading major
corporations to part with their money.
However, it does not take long to dispel that stereotype. With a career
that has combined stints on Vogue and the New York Times with a
longstanding involvement with the Territorial Army, Bicknell has
developed an enviable array of top-level contacts, making him ideally
placed for the job of organising London 2000. And at an age where most
people would be happy to put their feet up, he has managed to raise
close to pounds 1 million in sponsorship.
Adrian Vickers, the deputy chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and the
president of the IAA’s UK chapter, has worked closely with Bicknell
since being brought in to help with the IAA’s sponsorship drive. He
describes him as ’an irresistible combination of charm, energy and
persistence’, qualities that have helped the organisation to raise close
to pounds 1 million in sponsorship from nearly 40 companies ranging from
the Financial Times to the new-media agency 24/7. Vauxhall is providing
all the cars for the event. Gillette is supplying products to go in
delegates’ goodie bags.
Preparation for the event has taken him as far afield as Tokyo, where he
signed up Nikkei Business Publications, Japan’s biggest publishing
company, as a sponsor, and Istanbul and Beirut - an old haunt from his
days as the managing director of international advertising at the New
The line-up for this year’s event, which is organised by David Abraham,
the chief operating officer of St Luke’s, clearly proves that times have
changed for the organisation.
It includes the likes of Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the famed
Media Lab at MIT, Elisabeth Murdoch and Germaine Greer.
Abraham describes Bicknell and Archie Pitcher, the executive director of
the IAA’s UK chapter, as the unsung heroes of London 2000. ’They give
the impression of being old buffers, but they are really consumate
professionals. There can’t be many people who are in their seventies and
are still that enthusiastic about the business. Basil’s done a fantastic
job of raising money because he knows an awful lot of people and he has
an unbelieveable amount of energy,’ he says.
Abraham adds: ’I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He’s said from the
beginning that he wants the event to reflect progressive thinking and
he’s done everything he can to help achieve that.’
It’s all a far cry from where Bicknell began his media career, selling
classified ads for the property section of The Sunday Times. He stayed
for a year before moving to the Financial Times where he spent eight
years working his way up the career ladder.
Then came Conde Nast. Bicknell was hired to globalise the Vogue brand
and was sent to Conde Nast’s New York offices to bring in more
international advertising. ’It was totally different to the Financial
Times,’ he admits, adding, ’luckily I was still a bachelor back then.’
But he met the woman who became his wife at Vogue and married her on his
return to London, having proposed to her on their second date.
Bicknell then spent a year and a half working for Time Life before
moving to The Times, where he worked under Marmaduke Hussey. Finally, he
returned to the US to work for the New York Times where he spent the
last 17 years of his career taking on stints in Paris and London. ’I
travelled all over in that particular job - China, Japan, Korea - and
met either ministers or, in one case, the president. You can do that
with a name like the New York Times.’
But many of Bicknell’s best contacts have been developed through his
involvement with the Army, which he first joined when he was called up
for National Service. He was an airborne gunner, a glamorous-sounding
occupation which he describes simply as wearing a red beret and jumping
out of planes. He spent 25 years with the Territorial Army and is still
’That has been a great help in developing a much wider range of contacts
at a very senior level in industries such as insurance and banking,’
Bicknell says. ’One of my very good friends ran one of the major banks
here - it means I don’t have too narrow a view.’
He continues to be involved with the Territorial Army as a pikeman,
which involves carrying a 12ft steel pike around - no mean feat for a
man in his seventies. And when London 2000 is over, he will help
organise a dinner for the Honourable Artillery Company, which the Lord
Mayor - a fellow HAC member - is attending.
Bicknell has plenty of things planned to keep him occupied when the
congress is over. There is the small matter of a planned round-the-world
trip with his wife, taking in a spot of polo in Argentina, where his
mother is from, and a visit to a friend in Tahiti. Then he intends to
spend three months skiing in Vail - a resort he has only recently
With venerable old boys such as Bicknell around, the congress seems in
pretty good hands.