Senior Vice President
Mark Nickolas, a senior vice president at Putnam Partners, joined the firm after a unique 25-year journey that found him managing some of the highest profile Democratic political campaigns, leaving politics to become an award-winning documentary filmmaker, only to be pulled back after the existential shock of Donald Trump’s 2016 election.
In 2018, Mark planned, launched and managed the first-time candidacy of U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot Amy McGrath in one of the cycle’s most closely watched congressional races, working in tandem with Mark Putnam to create a new paradigm in how to harness the energy of small dollar Democratic donors (raising $9 million) and attracting immense national media through viral launch videos. Mark later managed Amy’s 2020 U.S. Senate campaign against then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Despite growing up in the public schools of Oakland, California as the oldest child of a Greek immigrant family and earning his degrees at UC Berkeley and The New School in New York City, the vast majority of Mark's political successes and experience have been, unexpectedly, in conservative and rural states.
Starting as a press assistant on the 1996 Clinton/Gore re-election, Mark's political career quickly took off, from intern staff assistant in the White House Office of Political Affairs, to a member of Vice President Al Gore's national advance staff and eventually joining his 2000 presidential campaign in Nashville, Tennessee, which culminated as a member of his Florida recount team for those 37 fateful days.
In 2002, Mark had his first opportunity in a campaign management role when he served as Senator Tim Johnson’s (D-SD) deputy campaign manager during the Senator’s successful re-election campaign. It was considered the top race of the cycle and a proxy war between President George W. Bush and then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Johnson won … by 524 votes. The staff, a future "Who's Who" of the Democratic Party, included Dan Pfeiffer, Jen O’Malley Dillon, Mitch Stewart and Steve Hildebrand.
However, it would be Kentucky where Mark would spend the most time in the trenches of red state politics.
Beyond managing and winning several very high-profile statewide and federal campaigns, he frequently battled the political machine of Senator Mitch McConnell, learning priceless lessons about the value of unconventional tactics, dictating the pace of a race and keeping your opponent guessing, shaping public opinion through a combination of old school and modern strategies, and never being limited by the expectations and paradigms of the day, even if it means respectfully challenging the assumptions of the party committees.
Mark's hard-earned stripes in the communications and press side of politics were ever-present in his career. While in Kentucky, he launched Bluegrass Report, the state's first widely read political blog. It was the first time he had ever directly taken on entrenched powers and those efforts had an outsized effect on the political landscape, a reminder that the big and powerful often struggle against creative, courageous and wily opponents. As a result, a federal grand jury was empaneled to investigate the corrupt practices of the state’s chief justice and Mark’s work significantly contributed to an unethical Republican governor losing his re-election by 20 points.
Mark considers those efforts to be combat by storytelling and eventually led him to film school – earning a Master’s degree in Media Studies at The New School in New York City so that he could expand his toolkit from the written word to one that embraced video and audio as well.
His first film, My Life in the Canyon of Heroes (2013), while still a graduate student, quickly landed him on the national stage, earning media coverage from The Atlantic, and segments on National Public Radio's Marketplace and CNBC, and was named a short film finalist by Smithsonian.
After earning his Master’s degree, Mark raised money and a crew and traveled to Egypt following the 2011 revolution to direct, produce and edit Nefertiti’s Daughters (2014), a 40-minute documentary short about female revolutionary street artists in Cairo. The film had its world premiere in April 2015 at the prestigious Aspen Shortsfest, won a number of film festivals including grand jury top prize at the Athens International Film Festival, has been screened at more than 30 festivals around the world, and was acquired by documentary distributor Icarus Films.
Mark splits his time between Washington, DC and his small farm in rural Kentucky with his long-time partner, Jean, and their three cats.
How Amy McGrath Went From Marine Fighter Pilot to Victorious Democrat
The New York Times, 5/23/2018 | Michael Tackett
‘A Little Errol Morris. And a Little Roger Ailes’
Politico, 07/08/2018 | Michael Kruse
Wall Street Movie Looks at Life as the Bull: Segment and interview on NPR's Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal
Marketplace, 07/12/2013 | Kai Ryssdal
Movie Gives A Voice to Wall Street's Famous Bull
CNBC, 07/22/2013 | Sue Herera and Uptin Saiidi
‘Nefertiti’s Daughters’ to Premiere at Aspen Shortsfest
The Aspen Times, 04/09/2015 | Andrew Travers