Music industry veteran Bob Mercer, the British CEO of the NOW compilation business in the U.S., has died aged 65.
Mercer was headhunted by EMI from General Foods in the early ’70s and tasked with shaking up the major’s marketing.
He went on to become managing director and signed artists at EMI including Queen, Kate Bush, Marc Bolan and Olivia Newton-John in the ’70s.
He also hired staff who have gone on to become senior industry executives, including Universal’s UMTV managing director Brian Berg, former BMG chairman John Preston, former EMI vice chairman David Munns, and Roger Ames, the EMI executive who last year took the job of CEO of international at Ticketmaster.
Berg tells Billboard.biz that Mercer hired him in 1976 to set up EMI’s first TV marketing division, which had success with the “20 Golden Greats” series of artist compilations.
Mercer left in 1980, still disillusioned about the Thorn EMI board decision in 1977 that EMI had to drop the Sex Pistols.
During the 80’s, Mercer worked for EMI Films, briefly managed Paul McCartney and became a partner in the audio/video production and management company Tango, making ads and promos as well training films in conjunction with TV comedy stars Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. Roger Waters was the management arm’s biggest artist.
Mercer relocated to Nashville in the early ’90s to run Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville label. He was later hired by Ames to run Polygram’s TV marketing division, which was instrumental in forming the “NOW That’s What I Call Music” compilation series in the U.S. in conjunction with EMI and Sony Music.
The “NOW” series debuted in the United States in 1998, 15 years after it first appeared in the U.K. The series has generated global sales over 200 million CDs, according to EMI.
Mercer served as VP of PolyMedia TV from October 1997 and then became SVP of UTV Records two years later.
UTV Records evolved from PolyMedia TV after Polygram was merged into Universal Music Group by Seagram in 1999. It utilized extensive TV advertising to score big sales for compilation albums.
Mercer also set up a heritage act label called New Door. The Temptations and Smokey Robinson were among the acts released on the label.
He then returned to the NOW business, heading up EMI’s joint venture with Sony and Universal, where his bosses included former protégés Munns and Ames.
“He had fantastic charisma, a great marketing brain, artists loved him and he will be sadly missed,” says Berg.
Bob Mercer died on May 5 after a brief battle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife Margie and son Jackson.