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SBD Global/August 29, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Hangin' With ... Marketing Agency George P. Johnson CEO Chris Meyer

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Chris Meyer says GPJ will intially focus is efforts on North America.
CHRIS MEYER is the CEO of marketing agency George P. Johnson. Prior to joining GPJ, Meyer was the exec VP of enterprise business development for online event content distribution and communications platform INXPO. Meyer, who was appointed CEO in October, is in charge of GPJ's 29 offices spread across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas. Earlier this month, GPJ, which is a Project: WorldWide agency, launched GPJ Sports Marketing. Meyer spoke to SBD Global about the reason behind the launch, its unique approach and target markets.

On GPJ's decision to launch a sports marketing operation...
Chris Meyer: We’ve actually been doing a lot of sports marketing and sports activation over the past decade. We just haven’t formalized it as a practice. We saw the volume growing in what we are doing in sports marketing and felt we just needed to kind of fine-tune the leadership and the process behind sports marketing. Number two is there’ve been a lot of inbound requests to us over the last couple of years from teams, venues and corporations of wanting to better understand what the fan experience could be. Through a lot of those conversations it became apparent to us that there’s a great opportunity for us to help brands better engineer their sponsorships and activations behind a lot of sporting events. Our desire was just to take everything that we have learned in kind of the experiential world from how we ideate and drive strategy and deliver and engineer experiences and apply that into sports marketing. It’s not really a big departure for us. Fundamentally we’ve been doing it. We think that brands are getting smarter about how they activate and we think we can bring our experiences from the experiential world into sports marketing.

On how GPJ Sports Marketing tries to differentiate itself...
Meyer: We are really trying to differentiate ourselves on bringing all the power through the Project: WorldWide network as well as GPJ that we have in building brand experiences and applying that in a more unique focused way on the true fan experience. Interestingly enough, when we launched this we have had a lot of interest from the corporate world, but what we didn’t expect is such a robust outreach from venues and stadiums that are in development or even some sports teams, who are saying, "You know what, it actually makes sense to think about the fan experience. Not from whether you are thinking about the fan experience equates to how many wireless points do we have or screens or mobile apps, but actually just step back and truly look at the architecture of these stadiums and our sporting events, whether it’s a Super Bowl or whether it’s a new stadium being built or a new arena and actually start to think about it." The shift is that you are truly thinking about it from a fan experience, the whole fan experience, right: the out-of-home, parking, in-stadium, in-arena and follow up. What we see is a different approach in the conversation with the sports teams that anyone else is having.

On why other sports marketing agencies don't use this approach...
Meyer: I think what’s happened is that decisions are made by the brand to sign up for a sponsorship, and they think about it in the context of "okay we need to be part of the Olympics or part of the stadium or part of an arena whatever it may be, Super Bowl," but they don’t necessarily think about it in the full context. Yes, I need to be the sponsor, but I also need to think about how do I develop that fan experience, so what’s happened is that brands have said, "Oh yes, we are a sponsor because our sign is up in the stadium or we have a presence at the US Open or whatever it may be." I think brands are getting smarter and saying, "Hey when we are signing off on this commitment from the sponsorship level, we need to step back and look at it holistically. Not only the sponsorship that we may be signing up with the venue or the experience but then what is that fan experience." We are going to see buyers that are behind sponsorship dollars getting smarter and wanting to look at the full package before they commit to it. I think what happened is they commit their entire budget to the sponsorship and then actually don’t have the right budget to properly activate it and I think they get stuck there. I think that's a financial point. Secondly, a lot of the agencies that are supporting sports marketing today, which is what we think the unique opportunity is for GPJ and Project: WorldWide is that they are really just connecting the brands with the experience and aren’t presenting the full picture. At our job and what we see already coming to us, whether they have already committed to something or there’s something new as brands get smarter about this, they are really looking at it holistically and they want to look at the holistic experience and associated budget before they commit.

On his vision for GPJ Sports Marketing...
Meyer: I’ve been surprised at kind of the incoming calls and opportunities that we have, which tells me that there’s a lot out there. We think it’s a big space that is ready for reinvention. We know there will be competition and people who may follow what we do, but we think it’s such a big opportunity that it's not going to tighten up anytime soon, as money goes into new venues and new arenas and such. Just look at Daytona, they are turning what was a track into an experience. Or look at Levi's Stadium, they are building another new complex across the street that’s going to be very retail and experiential. We see a lot of funding going into this model, so we are not as concerned about the competition side of it. When we talk about connecting brands and venues, designing the next generation of sponsorship opportunities is going to be very different than "okay, you own the signage." It’s going to be more integrate into the fan experience in a way that brings value to the fan as a brand owner. Let’s use an automotive brand and make that sponsorship in and around the stadium much tighter connected into the whole fan experience as opposed to just there’s a name plate up in the stadium. Things like reserved parking and special experiences, special opportunities. We also have the opportunity to help a lot of these venues re-craft the whole sponsorship package that does take into consideration a much deeper level of the fan experience.

On its initial target markets...
Meyer: Initially we are focused on North America, probably Western Europe will follow. We’ve had some initial discussions in China, but right now getting this launch and the opportunities that we are seeing in front of us is primarily focused on North America. Obviously there are some large-scale events like the Olympics in Rio and the Olympics in Tokyo that we will be focused on, but more because of the event versus the specific location.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.
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