CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/BASIL BICKNELL - IAA veteran who proves to be a tireless networker. There’s more to the London 2000 chairman than meets the eye, Claire Cozens says

’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.

’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

York Times.



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

involved.



’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

discovered.



With venerable old boys such as Bicknell around, the congress seems in

pretty good hands.



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