Jerry Wright, former ABC chief and Unilever marketer, passes away

He worked in Asia, before returning to UK to shake up circulation auditing body.

Wright: spent 25 years at Unilever
Wright: spent 25 years at Unilever

Jerry Wright, a former Unilever senior marketer who went on to steer the ABC through one of the most challenging periods in its history, has died aged 59.

He passed away at his home in Roehampton, having spent extended periods in hospital over the previous 18 months as he battled pancreatic cancer.

Wright, one the marketing industry’s most popular and capable figures, spent 25 years at Unilever before serving as chief executive of ABC for seven years until 2015.

He went on to do charitable work, most notably as executive director at Wates Family Charities, which has made grants worth millions of pounds to worthwhile causes, and the St Bride’s Foundation, a major hub for the creative arts in London.

Wright was born into a marcoms background. His father, Gerald, was chairman and chief executive of Lintas from 1974 to 1989.

Armed with a first-class history degree from University of Bristol, Wright joined Unilever.

He worked for the company in Hong Kong, Italy and Thailand, before becoming brand director for Omo in Asia and, latterly, marketing and innovation director for Birds Eye. 

Belinda Beeftink, the IPA’s research director and a friend of Wright since they were students at Bristol, said: "The passion with which Jerry would talk to you about frozen peas and frozen fish was legendary."

She added: "One of Jerry’s greatest talents was ‘collecting’ people. He accumulated a large group of friends from university and throughout his career. He was really interested in them – whoever they were and whatever their background."

Having spent time running Unilever’s media planning and buying group – "It was numbers driven and I liked the quantitative analysis" – Wright opted to quit the company when Birds Eye was sold to the private-equity sector.

With his experience, Wright saw it as a natural progression when he was appointed in 2008 to succeed Chris Boyd as chief executive of ABC, the auditing and certification body, which was founded in 1931 and represents both news and magazine publishers and the advertising community.

During his tenure, Wright steered ABC through recession and played a major role in transforming it from a predominately print circulation auditor to a digitally focused media industry standards and verification provider, operating across a wide range of digital and other media channels.

"ABC was in rude health when I arrived, but I think what was clear was that it needed to change and evolve more quickly in response to what was going on in the outside, the products and services offered and the way it was organised and set up," Wright later recalled.

"The boom in digital media not only kick-started the industry’s recovery, but also acted as a catalyst for change.

"One of the things that impelled digital forward during those difficult years was the promise of the ‘ultimate measurable medium’, where you only paid for what you got."

Beeftink said: "ABC had been doing an excellent job, but Jerry really shone a light of what it was doing in terms of development and expansion."

Wright’s other abiding interest was the Solus Club, where he was a committee member for many years and served as its treasurer. 

Karen Stacey, the club’s president and chief executive of Digital Cinema Media, said: "Jerry had a stellar career by any standard and we’ll remember him for both his friendliness and strong stewardship of the club."

A keen sportsman, Wright played in a series of Marketing Society charity cricket matches at Chelsea Hospital and formed a nomadic team called The Min. He also played rugby into his fifties.

His other love was opera, both as a listener and a participant.

Hugh Burkitt, the former Marketing Society chief executive, remembered how, having heard Wright singing so enthusiastically at a Solus Club event, he persuaded Wright to join him in singing with a group of other Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts in New Malden.

Burkitt said: "He battled bravely during his last year with a particularly cruel form of cancer and was still attending rehearsals earlier this year until the lockdown stopped us all from singing."

Wright is survived by his wife, Clare, and their children, Christopher and Charlotte. 

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