Chris Meyer of GPJ on Sports Marketing and Brand-Enhanced Experiences

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



chris_meyer_colorChris Meyer is the CEO of George P. Johnson, an experience marketing agency that is part of the Project: WorldWide network.

Tell us a little about yourself. Describe your job, how long you've been doing it, and how you got into it.

I’ve been the CEO of GPJ for a year, but I have a long history with the agency. I’ve held several senior roles over the years, and even when I left to work in software for a while, I still worked closely with GPJ.

I studied hospitality at Cornell University and began my career with Westin Hotels in the hospitality space, which is, of course, closely aligned with the events space. I then built a very successful global conference management agency, which was acquired by GPJ in 2000.

At GPJ, my focus is on our clients, our people, and our industry. We have top-notch personnel serving some of the world’s largest brands, and the marketing programs we create and manage are high-stakes endeavors so I stay close to the action.

GPJ recently launched GPJ Sports Marketing. The agency had previously worked on various sports marketing projects, so why is this dedicated practice so important for your agency's growth in this area?

We saw our sports marketing program volume growing and knew we just needed to fine-tune the leadership and the process to help it grow more rapidly. We see sports and entertainment marketing as vital tools to help brands develop relationships with consumers. It’s a natural part of creating experiential programs.

Our desire was to take everything we have learned in the experiential world over our 100-year history, from how we ideate and drive strategy to the delivery and engineering of experiences, and apply it to sports marketing.

Secondly, we have received many inbound requests over the past few years from teams, venues, and corporations wanting to better understand what the fan experience could be. I believe the fan experience approach has been somewhat limited to new technologies as opposed to a holistic fan journey, and I know that our approach to experience design is broader than this and can, and will, drive the next generation of fan experience.

Finally, we have a global office network and a number of sister agencies within Project: WorldWide, our parent company, which are relevant. There are abundant opportunities in each region to leverage sports assets, properties, and teams on behalf of our clients.

Why should digital integration at sporting events be an important consideration for brands?

It’s interesting that you call out digital integration specifically. We believe there is an opportunity to leverage the digital, interactive, and mobile tools we regularly deploy for our non-sports clients in a sports marketing context. Sure, digital installations make an impression, but we’re in the business of helping our clients develop their businesses through better relationships with their customers. Digital tools have a very high ROI when utilized properly. The reason is simple: measurement.

For us, measurement means two key things: 1) capturing the right data, and 2) making it actionable by our clients in support of their business goals. The second point is where the opportunity lies. There are plenty of simple data-gathering mechanisms, however, GPJ utilizes all touch points, digital and analog, to create a useful picture of the audience. We then enable the easy leveraging of that data by sales and marketing teams. But digital wizardry by itself is not meaningful.

The challenge, of course, is utilizing digital integrations to create a better overall fan experience – one that is personal and meaningful. Digital techniques are tools in our arsenal. We deploy the tools based on a unified strategic approach designed for each client. And as we have extensive experience with tools such as near field communications, RFID, user-centric mobile experiences, digital and interactive displays, gamification, and CRM integration, we’re positioned to help clients create memorable fan experiences and then benefit from the data generated.

What are the elements of a memorable sporting event? How can brands help to create this for attendees?

Memorable — that’s a key word. Too many marketing programs seek to be memorable, but their context limits their efficacy. Here’s what I mean: A memorable advertisement has a shelf life, if you will. If the ad is done well, the consumer is momentarily enchanted. By contrast, a marketing experience is tactile and often emotional. People take pictures, save them, and share them. Further, with experiential programs you have a ready-made opportunity to surprise and delight consumers, creating an indelible memory and valuable affinity.

Fun, surprising, and brand-enhancing activities can take many forms. An example I think is relevant is an activation at the new Levi's stadium in Santa Clara. Levi’s has brand ambassadors who give away products to fans wearing their clothing while attending the event. It's not promoted; it is a surprise and delight action — a really smart way to get the brand into the minds, and hands, of consumers that complements their stadium sponsorship.

A sporting event is often memorable by itself, and brands can benefit from this by adding to the overall experience. To capitalize on this, companies can provide experiences that generate emotional responses via special access, white-glove treatment, convenience, comfort, and merchandise. Each program is different, created to support an individual brand’s promise.

For example, we recently helped Pepsi create its Fan Deck experience at the new Levi’s Stadium. This was a situation where there was a space owned by Pepsi that needed to be converted into an experience. We created an experiential area that supported the overall design of the stadium with its rich historical theme, provided consumers with special access and convenience (not to mention a breathtaking view), and created opportunities for amplification of the experience via social media. All of this developed increased affinity for the brand while supporting the Pepsi Pulse strategy.

Experiential programs at sporting events also provide a unique forum for “unscripted” activities to take place. We don’t fully plan every personal engagement down to the minute. We provide a structure that enables high-impact, emotional moments to occur naturally.

What do brands need to consider about consumers when considering their state of mind, behaviors, and preferences as it relates to sports marketing?

Often these considerations are very similar to non-sports marketing experiential initiatives, but there is an exception. When working with sports teams there is a third party: you’ve got the brand, the consumer, and the team or property. This makes the process a bit more challenging, but also offers a significant upside.

Brands need to be aware of how consumers view the sports property in question. This, combined with the brand’s business goals, provides the framework for the strategy and creative we apply.

For example, we’ve created programs associated with sports events for horse racing and golf, but we’ve also produced them for BMX. The needs and wants of the audiences in these events vary widely.

Simply associating your brand’s logo with a sport marketing program is not enough. You need to employ a strategic mapping process to analyze the audience, the strengths, the weaknesses of the sports property, and the brand’s business requirements to create the right program and environment for success.

What is one of your favorite campaigns your agency has worked on?

We’re always pleased to talk about Cisco House, a program we developed for Cisco during the London Olympics. I call this one out because the story is impressive. We created a structure, built on top of a shopping mall, which provided comfortable proximity to the Games in a notoriously difficult and cramped setting. More importantly, we filled it with an experience that perfectly addressed the Cisco audience for this experience: C-level execs from the world’s top companies. More than 15,000 guests were treated to tremendous views, and a deep immersion in Cisco’s technology and its beneficial effects on everyday life.

What advertising trend do you find most interesting and why?

Data-driven marketing is the trend we’re focused on and have been for several years. Marketers today are required to provide analytics associated with their spend. That’s a given. When you then consider that experiential programs offer both the rich metrics associated with digital campaigns and the affinity-generation that’s unmatched by other marketing channels, we’re in a tremendous position to help marketers achieve their goals.

Must-Read Book:

I read a lot, but a book I recently read is "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. We have talked a lot about data, and it is always good to understand the impact if we go too far with personal data.

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter @GPJ_Meyer.

Related Articles

We're committed to your privacy. HubSpot uses the information you provide to us to contact you about our relevant content, products, and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information, check out our Privacy Policy.

Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.