Chris Meyer is currently the CEO at George P. Johnson, the world’s leading event and experience marketing agency. Prior to GPJ, Meyer was the Executive Vice President of Enterprise Business Development at INXPO. The Makegood recently spoke with Meyer about GPJ’s 100th year anniversary.
The Makegood: Congratulations on reaching a milestone at George P. Johnson, the company’s 100th year anniversary. Could you give a brief history on GPJ?
George P. Johnson Experience Marketing (GPJ), the world’s leading experience marketing agency, recently celebrated 100 years in business on Saturday, June 14. As GPJ’s anniversary coincides with Flag Day, this year’s celebrations not only commemorated our century in business, but also our history steeped in the making of large-scale U.S. flags for various ceremonies over the years. The agency, which got its start as a sail-maker in Michigan in 1914, grew into the leading automotive industry marketing firm with the advent of auto shows early in the 20th century. Late in the century, GPJ added considerable creative, branding, and strategy expertise, and succeeded in winning several technology accounts, fueling expansion. Today, GPJ serves the automotive, high tech, financial services, sports, entertainment, packaged goods, and apparel verticals via a network of 29 offices worldwide.
The Makegood: What has the company accomplished that really stands out to you?
GPJ has consistently innovated. While this is an overused term, it really does apply. From its earliest years, the agency invented techniques and technologies that are still used by event marketers today. These range from auto show standards such as the rotating vehicle platter and the dissected vehicle, to innovations in lighting, sound design, interactive touch points, and data collection. So what stands out is the fact that for 100 years the company has maintained a culture of creativity that permeates our strategists, designers, project management personnel, and our fabricators.
Of course, the evolution of the company’s offerings is also impressive. We’ve progressed from designers of physical spaces to creators of huge brand experiences. Along with the advancement of our services, we’ve expanded our scope of industry expertise. We now work with the biggest brands not only in automotive, but also tech, apparel, financial services, and consumer packaged goods.
The Makegood: What have you personally accomplished with the company? What sort of developments have you experienced in digital marketing?
I joined GPJ through an acquisition of my agency in 2000 and since then have held several senior roles within GPJ, including both regional and functional leadership roles that have always kept me very close to our clients. I also believe I have helped the agency lead our expansion and momentum into the IT vertical and to build our strength in truly understanding the intersection of digital and physical. Understanding this intersection and related data is critical from strategy through creative and delivery, and measurement.
This momentum has also propelled us to drive change in the experiential space. We’re at the forefront of digital technologies that not only surprise and delight consumers, but perhaps more importantly, also create actionable customer intelligence our clients can use to build their business.
Digital marketing’s primary promise in terms of differentiation from other marketing channels is the measurement and scalability it enables. We’re in the business of leveraging this for our clients in new and exciting ways. For example, we use gesture-controlled devices, RFID, near field communications, and a variety of other digital techniques not only because they’re engaging, but also because they provide immediate and detailed data that is extremely important to our clients. The concept of using digital techniques, combined with the immediacy and intimacy of a physical brand experience, is both powerful and a great differentiator for us.
The Makegood: How has marketing changed since you started working in the industry?
There’s a fundamental shift going on right now and it’s being driven by a couple of different factors. The shift is in marketing spend. Many influential brands are accelerating their investments in marketing channels that focus on relationships vs. simple awareness. Awareness will always have a role but smart marketers know that real ROI and monetization comes from having relationships with target consumers. Social media is an extension of this, but that’s still arms length. Experience marketing agencies stand to benefit from this shift because we provide tangible brand interactions that build emotional connections rather than being interruptive, which establish the relationships brands seek.
If you think about the difference between an awareness campaign and an experience campaign you see the stark contrast. Awareness campaigns, by nature, are interruptive. The consumer has generally not chosen to be presented with the brand’s message, and many times will actively skip it. They turn the page, fast forward through the TV commercial, change the radio station, ignore the banner ad, etc.
Experiential campaigns are different. Consumers choose to be there and choose to participate. If you measure what they participate in, you give your clients incredibly powerful information that informs other marketing efforts, including awareness campaigns. But you also establish something else – you create brand affinity. You’ve managed to break through the marketplace clutter and create a memory associated with your brand, and that’s a powerful tool upon which other marketing communications can be based on and benefit from.
Let me give you a concrete example. For years, we’ve created and managed Jeep’s Ride-N-Drive program, Camp Jeep. Consumers around the world are given the opportunity to experience firsthand what the Jeep value proposition is by being driven through an off-road course, which includes steep dirt inclines, logs, rocks, water barriers, and more. This physical interaction with the brand, and its promise, is incredibly powerful – much more so than a picture in a magazine or footage on TV. The program is proven to have resulted in big increases in dealer visits and has been so successful that last year we clocked our one-millionth ride. That’s a lot of consumers personally experiencing the Jeep brand.
The Makegood: To what extent do you believe innovation works its way into event and experience-driven marketing?
Innovation is inherent in experience marketing because each campaign is different. Each brand has a promise that, in the hands of a good agency, can be translated into an experience that resonates with consumers. As a result, we’re constantly innovating. Our strategy practice teams do exceptionally deep dives into personas, consumer behavior, and desired client outcomes. Our creative teams around the globe are always innovating, too. We look for new technologies that enable both dazzling experience and the actionable analytics our clients need. We’re always applying these solutions through the lens of the individual brand values and its target consumers.
We’re also one of the few agencies that have massive fabrication abilities as well. We have large production facilities across the globe, and therefore innovate in how we build and deliver elements of our campaigns. We’ve also created industry standards for recycling and the use of environmentally sustainable materials. So, as stated earlier, innovation is at the core of our mission and values. It’s even in our tagline.
The Makegood: What do you see for the next 100 years in the marketing industry? Do you believe that GPJ can continue to be innovative enough to withstand another hundred years?
We believe marketing is going to continue its current arc towards emphasizing relationships between brands and consumers. This is the way things used to be. You’d visit your local hardware store or barber because you knew the proprietor. You had a relationship that was meaningful; one based on trust. Marketing moved away from this for a time. Brands became impersonal and focused on differentiation. We believe brands are going to come back to the idea of emphasizing the personal connection, and that’s where we come in. We create brand devotion by enabling personal experiences with brands. That builds affinity, which leads to loyalty.
We’re bullish, as you might expect, when it comes to the next 100 years. We believe our emphasis on constant innovation that’s focused on measurable results, and our commitment to creating relationships, positions us quite well in the marketing services space. We have some big plans for the next couple of years related to data driven marketing, and we think brands will embrace this with increasing velocity.
The Makegood: Thank you, Chris.