The SVP of marketing at Diageo, Nichols will have finished his second year of involvement with the company's Guinness account. Guinness is the brand beer most closely associated with the holiday, the New York parade, and subsequent celebrations surrounding the holiday - a fertile landscape for Nichols and his team to cultivate throughout the year.
For Nichols, planning for the next St. Patrick's Day begins the day after the holiday. The team gathers to discuss what programs worked and how it can expand upon the previous program to create something new and fresh for Guinness. This year, Diageo's PR team conceived an idea that influenced all disciplines, including advertising - a rare occurrence given the emphasis (and budgets) most companies put on advertising in comparison to PR.
Nichols and his team developed a program, and supporting Web site entitled "Proposition 317," a grassroots initiative to garner 1 million signatures by March 16 to petition the US Congress to make St. Patrick's Day a nationally recognized holiday. Users can log on to proposition317.com and sign the petition, include a personal message about why they're signing it, and upload a photo of themselves to accompany the signature. Users can also subscribe to regular updates on the petition's progress.
To date, the petition has gathered more than 115,000 signatures. It was an idea that Nichols says united the usually protective marketing departments.
"PR was the most important element," he says. "[But] we have agencies and colleagues who [do not] necessarily [recognize] it, and that's a challenge. But when the idea is a big idea, it's amazing how it breaks down all those barriers."
As an integrated team, Diageo and its agency Taylor Global, launched Proposition 317 in conjunction with a US media tour starring Guinness' master brewer Fergal Murray. In addition to the traditional "Guinness toast," which takes place every February 17, this February Guinness continued its "Pour the Perfect Pint" competition in Atlanta. Featuring bartenders from around the US, it has grown so popular, Diageo plans to take the contest on a nationwide tour in 2009.
The aim of the expanded tour, and Proposition 317, is to keep the US push for Guinness fresh each year, a position Nichols says is the most challenging.
"When you're successful," he asks, "how do you come back every year and be even better? If you keep doing the same thing every year, it starts to get stale."
Drinking lends itself naturally to a younger audience. As such, Nichols looked beyond traditional media and branched out into the blogosphere to promote Proposition 317. To date, Diageo says more than 90 blogs have picked up on the petition, most recently USA Today's Pop Candy blog.
For Nichols, landing his dream job, representing Guinness, was 13 years in the making. Prior to taking the lead at the company, he worked on other Diageo brands Crown Royal and Johnnie Walker. Coworkers say the job he always wanted has paid off for the team.
"He has a level of faith in our work that he lets us manage it ourselves and integrate the other disciplines," says Patricia Costantino, PR director at Diageo. "We're thankful we have somebody who... really let us run with it."
Even as the countdown drew nearer to St. Patrick's Day, and the year's work was coming to an end, Costantino says Nichols always kept his faith and good humor.
"I've never seen him lose his cool," she says. "He's a lot of fun. You can't work around a brand like Guinness and not be fun."
SVP of marketing, Diageo NA. Brands include Guinness, Smirnoff, and Captain Morgan
VP, marketing, Crown Royal
US-based VP of marketing, Johnnie Walker Scotch