Life & Culture

JW3's Marc Nohr: ‘He’s not a typical macher’

Meet Marc Nohr - an industry leader in media, JW3's chair and a Krav Maga teacher


Marc Nohr speaks very quietly. I find myself wondering if it’s a way of deflecting the creative maelstrom inside his head, or if he’s simply rationing his energy. On the other hand, as a one-time child actor he probably knows better than most, that if he speaks softly I’m going to listen very carefully indeed.

Talking about coronavirus and the “massive” effect it could have on the two spheres where he operates — a global marketing and communications group on the one hand and a large public-facing institution on the other, more excitable people might get carried away with the sheer gravity of the situation. After all, the implications are devastating, as Nohr acknowledges with a shrug and a smile.

For decades a key industry player within British advertising and marketing (earlier this month he was named one of the UK’s top five agency leaders at the Campaign awards) he has been propelled into the wider public eye and onto BBC Radio 4’s Today programme by his inclusion in the Timewise Power 50, a list of high-profile people who work flexibly. In a business world where part-time working is seen as low status because the primary uptake is by women, Nohr’s presence on this list is seen as adding real ballast. He says he now works four days a week to gain more “headspace” and “more varied, diverse days”.

The flexible job in question is global CEO of the Miroma collective, a suite of advertising agencies and other interests with an annual turnover of £153 million. But much as one applauds the example Nohr is setting by taking a day off each week from such a high stress job, it’s not as though he’s using that time to decompress by — say — going fishing.

Instead he’s devoting the time to a second job, unpaid, as chair of the Jewish Community and Cultural Centre, JW3 ,with its imposing glass fronted building on Finchley Road and annual turnover just under £5 million. On top of that, he’s also director of the self-defence school London Krav Maga, where he is a qualified instructor. There’s an awful lot going on behind the smiley exterior and quiet voice.

I’ve come to the refurbished Art Deco block near London’s Oxford Circus which is home to Miroma’s London headquarters. Passing through the courtyard, I enter an open plan office with dark wood flooring, white walls and an atmosphere just as hushed as Nohr himself.

Nohr tells me that the key to everything he does is storytelling and what I discover is that is his own story is one of the restless acquisition of different skills from his very earliest years.

It begins with two very different parents — his outgoing father a Lithuanian-born immigrant from South Africa and his French mother a more introverted character, possibly as a result of being hidden as a child to escape the Holocaust.

In the 1950s, his father Max “pulled himself up by the bootstraps” and “after arriving in London with no money” put himself through night school to study engineering. “I grew up with all those stories of how you got to work twice as hard as the next guy. And I got from my dad that Jewish appetite for culture and learning.”

From Max, Nohr learned to love his religion and all things Yiddishkeit, while from his mother Evelyne — a supporter of causes including the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign for Soviet Jewry — the drive to give something back.

As an “artsy kind of kid” he was drawn into Islington’s now legendary Anna Scher Theatre, leading to a string of parts on television and radio. He even presented a series about books alongside Alvin Stardust. But the biggest prize of all — a role in school soap Grange Hill — eluded him, and eventually Nohr took his cue to move on.

Despite taking time out of university to become a session musician in New York, he still achieved a double first in politics as well as landing a prize. Having written for student papers, on graduating it was a smooth segue into the “lonely life” of a freelance journalist. Colleagues in PR nudged him towards the world of advertising where he found the mix of commerce and creativity very much to his taste.

After rising up the ranks to Creative Director then Managing Director while still in his twenties, a meeting at a party on a boat resulted in the creation of a brand new agency: Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw.

While it’s clear that his background and appetite for culture in the broadest sense must have been key assets for an advertiser, there’s no suggestion from Nohr that the company’s success was due to any sort of creative dynamism on his part. Instead he praises his “incredibly talented partners” and the chemistry between four very different personalities.

“It was like a family. We did great things, we rowed, we have disputes. We had great clients, we lost great clients.”

Three years after launching, they were named by the Financial Times as one of the fastest growing companies of its kind. “By year four we are agency of the year, which we won five times in a row. From there on, we pretty much had every yummy mummy and middle aged man’s favourite accounts — Waitrose, John Lewis, Toyota, Lexus, Starbucks Nando’s. It becomes one of the most celebrated agencies of its type.”

The one really sour note centred on the buy-out of the young company (now abbreviated to Kitcatt Nohr) by the French advertising giant Publicis and a consequent High Court dispute. Apart from describing it as “one of the most stressful experiences in my life” Nohr is not at liberty discuss the details of the legal battle but information in the public domain suggests that eventually he and his partners were awarded £2.6 million plus costs. The sweet taste of victory was tempered by the death from cancer of Jeremy Shaw just before the case came to court.

After a brief break from advertising, Nohr was tempted back to head the up-and-coming agency Fold7. When that was bought out by Miroma it was on the understanding that he would move up to group CEO, Agencies, his most recent move.

Meanwhile he’d become a trustee of JW3 before the venue opened for business in 2016. Many sceptics still doubted the need for it, questioning everything from its location to its purpose. By the time Nohr took over the mantle of chairman, the centre was well established but Raymond Simonson who has been CEO from the start makes him sound like a breath of fresh air, citing a hands-on approach, thoughtfulness in decision making, supportiveness, and insistence on giving credit where it is due.

But what really sets Nohr apart, he says — apart from the ability to throw adversaries over his shoulder — is that he’s not one of the “usual suspects”, the communal great and good doing the rounds of the Jewish charity sector. Despite bringing a very strong Jewish identity which is religious, personal and communal — ‘He hasn’t been what you might think of as a typical macher’.

The difference he brings isn’t just the understatedly on-trend dress sense, or can-do attitude that Nohr brings from his day job, “He has real creative brilliance about him in his professional life, and he can bring that in to community life.”

For Nohr himself, there’s a real sense of continuity between the two roles he plays, “Suddenly the job is not necessarily to do it all yourself, but to support talent and get the best of that talent. How do you get people to come together to do things they can’t do on their own?” And though the second job brings its own fair share of challenges, it’s clear he gets real fun and personal enrichment from the change of scene which feeds back into his advertising work. So maybe there is a significant pay-off from flexible working after all.

Six years after it opened and five years after merging with London’s other main Jewish cultural centre, JW3 is in rude health, exceeding projections for both visitor numbers and turnover by three times. Simon Schama has called it “a magnet of cultural energy” and Jonathan Sacks “a paradigm-shifting institution”.

Alas, as this paper went to press, the news came that JW3 is to close indefinitely, thanks to the coronavirus crisis. It’ll be up to Nohr to make sure there is a vision and a strategy to keep it viable for the decades to come.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive