John David Held, 1st Executive Director of AICE has passed at 97

John David Held
John David Held

John David Held, who went from writing copy for newspapers and TV stations to a far-flung career as an agency producer to being the first formal leader of a major industry trade association, has passed away. Held died on June 3 in Wyoming, where he had resided for a number of years. He was 97.

Born in Anniston, Alabama, Held served in the Navy in the Second World War and graduated from the University of Alabama. He landed in New York City after graduation and talked his way into a copyboy’s job at the New York Daily News. From there he moved over to broadcast, taking a news desk job with New York’s WPIX-TV before moving to Pittsburgh to work at an ad agency. Upon returning to New York, he worked for such agencies as Dancer Fitzgerald Sample before starting a long association with Cunningham & Walsh. 

After trying out retirement in North Carolina in the early ‘90s, Held was recruited by editor Bobby Smallheiser, a partner in First Edition/Composite, to become the first executive director of a fledgling postproduction trade association, which soon became the Association of Independent Commercial Editors, later renamed the Association of Independent Creative Editors and eventually AICE. It was a position he held from 1995 until 2006, when he was succeeded by Burke Moody. AICE formally merged with AICP in January of 2018.

Held, along with Moody, were inducted into the AICE Hall of Fame (now the AICP Post Hall of Fame) in 2017. Commenting at the time, Craig Duncan of Cutters, then AICE’s International Board president, affirmed, “We can’t have a conversation about what AICE has become, and what it does for its members, without acknowledging the contributions of John and Burke. Together they laid the groundwork for our cause and were the first voices for our advocacy.”

Tom Duff with John David Held

Tom Duff, president of Optimus, and a current member of the AICP Midwest Chapter Board, said on the occasion of Held’s Hall of Fame induction that his contributions to the postproduction industry, particularly at the time he made them, were hard to measure: “The association was kind of rudderless before John arrived, and through his leadership and counsel he put us on the map,” Duff pointed out. “John helped lay the foundation for a lot of things our members take for granted today, and had a hand in many critical business practice issues. For those who questioned back then what AICE could do for them, he laid it all out. And that’s still paying dividends today.”

When Held joined AICE there were chapters in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, and they were loosely and not formally allied. “The editors would all meet at the NAB Show and talk,” noted Held on the occasion of his induction into the Hall of Fame. “They felt they needed an outside person to pull the chapters together.” He recalled his first major accomplishment was merging the independent groups into a single, accredited entity, helping guide its adoption of bylaws. 

His next task, he explained, was gaining respect and credibility for the organization. “Our objective was to get a seat at the table,” he said in 2017. He tapped longstanding connections on the agency side to secure meetings with the ANA and the 4As, and was successful in getting editorial and post houses paid directly, giving them control over their receivables. Another major accomplishment was helping launch the AICE Awards in 2001, now the AICP Post Awards.

His death was announced by his daughter, Pamela Whitlock.  She noted that her father worked on many high-profile ads of his day, including national campaigns for brands like Folger’s. He was predeceased by his wife, Lee, who died in 2006. 

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