At the age of 81, Jim Nelems, founder of the Atlanta-based Marketing Workshop, left us on November 3, 2022 after a gallant battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Jim Nelems was born and raised in the small Alabama town of Hueytown. Even as a child, Jim had a penchant for numbers which segued into a successful and satisfying marketing research career, and ultimately into becoming one of the foremost marketing research business owners.
After enjoying adolescence in the outskirts of Birmingham, Jim enrolled at the University of Alabama, where he earned a B.S. and M.S.C. degree in Marketing. Newly credentialed and eager to make his mark in the world, Jim went to work for the Pillsbury Company as a research analyst. He later accepted the position of Director of Marketing for the Henderson Advertising Agency during which time he realized a need for a southeastern based full service marketing research firm. Soon after, in 1972, he founded The Marketing Workshop in Atlanta. Together, Jim and his wife, Dot, managed and grew the business to become the Marketing Workshop of today, thriving in its 50th year of business. Nearly ten years after the debut of The Marketing Workshop, Jim realized an opportunity to fulfill another need and opened Compass Marketing Research, a data collection research facility with the ability to draw a wide variety of consumer types for conducting telephone and in person research.
The phrase “marketing minded” could have been coined after Jim, as the thousands of client marketing and R&D teams that benefited from his insights will tell you. Jim will long be remembered for his brilliant mind, somewhat quirky personality, and uncommon energy. Jim consistently worked long and tireless hours because he absolutely loved his work. Research never stopped intriguing Jim, and he exuded such an excited energy with sharing outcomes and insights. His ability to remember intricate details and facts of research studies from decades ago stayed with him to the end of his days.
There is no denying that Jim had an insatiable passion for research, which was realized by all who experienced his work. He is legendary for his tenacious investigative research style, and the integrity with which he insisted that research be conducted. This resulted in his name “Jim Nelems” becoming synonymous with “best practice” and is how he carved a niche for himself as one of the nation’s go-to expert witnesses for litigation cases involving research. Jim was engaged in over 100 such cases spanning 1980-2014. He was a highly principled research practitioner who was known to say, “Research done right or no research at all.” And to this day, Marketing Workshop remains a statistically based, analytically driven, and marketing-minded research agency. In the early days of The Marketing Workshop, Jim devised Marketing Workshop’s branding to feature DaVinci, The Master of Art & Science, which symbolized Jim’s philosophy that analytics (science) must be synthesized into insights that are usable (art).
Jim loved to attend marketing research industry events, sharing ideas about methodologies, and swapping stories. He loved talking about and teaching marketing research to anyone and everyone, and he enjoyed writing about it, too. In 2003, Jim wrote and published, From Research to Riches: The Secret Rules of Successful Marketing. Jim also authored over 30 published marketing research articles and lectured their content across a great many industry events.
In 2015, 43 years after launching his marketing research business, Jim and Dot retired and moved to Bluffton South Carolina, not far from Hilton Head Island, relinquishing management of their business to Sherri and Scott Taylor, their daughter and Son-in-law, both of whom had long been instrumental in the day-to-day running of the business.
Research, it seemed, would be a family affair with the Nelems, as the career journeys of Jim’s son and daughter-in-law, David and Janelle, have also included some time in the industry.
Several years after retiring Jim was interviewed on the topic during which Jim’s remarks included, “Years ago, it was not uncommon for family run research firms (as well as other industries) to have children who would eventually take over the business. However, today that is most rare. In fact, we are among the few research firms still family owned. Yet transitioning to the next generation is not merely handing over the keys, there are four common-sense principles which have to be learned, absorbed, and followed. First, always stay close to market trends and realize that changes will have to be made. Second, focus on the right targets. Third, use the strengths of your past and your present. And last, you must let the new managers run the transitioned company.
The Taylors are dedicated to continuing the success of Marketing Workshop, inspired by Jim’s original goal and dream of having a successful marketing research company based in the South.
Over the course of Jim’s career, he served on the Board of Directors for CASRO and chaired the Research Quality Committee while instituting the CASRO guidelines for Data Collection, and the CASRO Guidelines for Data Processing. Jim was also a member of the UGA Master of Marketing Research Board of Advisors, as well as President of the Atlanta/Southeast Chapter of the Marketing Research Association. In addition, Jim was an active member of the American Marketing Association (AMA), the Marketing Research Association (MRA), and because of the vast amount of work Jim did within the Travel and Tourism Industry, was also actively involved in the Travel and Tourism Research Association and the Southeast Tourism Society.
Aside from Jim’s rigorous work schedule, he felt it was important to make time for extending his influence to students and did so at Furman University as an Assistant Professor of Marketing, and as an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Breneau University.
The Marketing Workshop team shares, “As the marketing research industry bids farewell to one of its most remarkable pioneers, Jim Nelems, we are proud to carry on his legacy.”
I hired Jim to do research for many of my clients over the years and his work was always the backbone of our creative recommendations in marketing. He was always so kind – and talked about his family a lot! – and willing to help and provide advice. I sat in MANY focus group sessions (behind the one-way glass!) with him over the years and enjoyed learning from him. I will never forget his story about the woman who left the focus group room with everyone, then ran back to the empty room and dumped all of the cookies in her purse… while the one-way glass crowd watched and laughed!
Thank you for taking the time to share this with us, Kaye. In terms of being a top-notch researcher, Jim’s counsel to clients was always grounded with how to implement the insights into wise marketing applications. This lives on today with how we think and operate as an organization, and is the basis of our brand tagline, researchWISE.
BTW – We’ve seen lots of interesting if not hilarious things while behind the glass. The cookie snatch is priceless!