Interview with VP- Marketing of George P Johnson – Scott Kellner

“As a lifelong marketer, I recognized a trend: traditional marketing tactics like advertising and digital marketing, relied on interruptive delivery”

Tell us a little bit about your role and how you got here.
I’m the VP of marketing for George P. Johnson Experience Marketing (GPJ) – the world’s largest experiential marketing agency with 30 offices around the world. I’m responsible for all external and internal communications, along with lead generation and branding.

My route to GPJ, was this: I co-founded a virtual event software company back in 2008. This was at the beginning of the recession, and the idea was to enable companies to conduct events such as trade shows and sales conferences online, with a great deal of the functionality and benefit of attending an event physically, but without the cost of travel. We actually did quite well, signing up major technology clients in Silicon Valley. But there were a limited number of companies who could derive the full value of events in a virtual forum.

At the same time, as a lifelong marketer, I recognized a trend: traditional marketing tactics like advertising and digital marketing relied on interruptive delivery. By that I mean: the audience was forced to stop what they really wanted to be doing (watching a TV show, browsing a website, etc.) in order for the message from the marketer to be conveyed. I knew that with the advent of time- and place-shifting (DVRs, ad blockers), the efficacy of those techniques was going to wane, and I sought out the leader in non-interruptive marketing – GPJ. My assumption was simple: experiential marketing (events, brand activations, etc.) are voluntary and participatory – people want to engage in those ways, at those times, or they wouldn’t be there. And that, to me, was a powerful way for a brand to truly engage, and develop a real relationship, with target audiences. I wanted to be a part of that.

Given the massive proliferation of marketing technology, how do you see the martech market evolving over the next few years?
There are a couple of trends that will accelerate over the near term. First, automation – marketers’ ability to plan and execute a variety of marketing programs is going to become even more systematic than it is now. And there’s still an important role for awareness campaigns to play, so this is crucial. I call it “air cover” – having a consistent cadence of the right kind of content marketing, thought leadership, PR, and even advertising is essential for most brands.

Second, personalization – digital marketers have done a pretty good job of personalizing messages through re-targeting and other techniques. But those are still interruptive, and can be disquieting to some consumers. Where I see personalization becoming more important is on the experiential side by creating unique experiences informed by real-time data that constantly updates the custom recommendations for each participant.

What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Artificial intelligence is going to revolutionize the two trends I noted above. It’s going to enable automation to work more quickly, and it’s going to fuel personalization in exciting new ways for marketers.

What’s the biggest challenge that CMOs need to tackle to make marketing technology work?
Marketing technology is a tool, not a communications strategy or solution. CMOs need to ensure they remember the anthropology involved in good marketing. We’re attempting to reach human beings – people who have their own priorities, their own biases, and their own timetables. Too often, I’ve seen marketing technology put to work to efficiently deliver messaging that doesn’t resonate. Simply being more efficient at delivering mediocre communications isn’t going to solve anything. You just win the race to mediocrity.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I’m a pretty simple guy when it comes to this. First, I use the quietest time I have – early morning before others in my organization have signed on – to focus on my research and education goals related to my role at GPJ. Second, I carve out time on my calendar a few days week so that meetings cannot be booked and I can actually get important, time-sensitive work done.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?
By focusing on the successful case studies for its use in my industry AND the failures, and there are going to be plenty of them. It’s also incredibly useful to interact with professionals from other disciplines within my agency, such as our creative leads, or our strategy personnel, to get their opinions on what’s next. Often, they have a different data set from which they’re working – different publications they read, experts with whom they’ve consulted, etc. They also view the potential of AI from a different perspective. By combining what I need from it with what they can dream up, we end up with some very interesting solutions – many of which we’re deploying for clients now.

What is the core marketing technology capability of your firm that you bring to a marketer? Where does your product fit in vis-a-vis the customer lifecycle?
GPJ, while it has proprietary technology, more often serves as an aggregator and integrator of various experiential and event technologies. Our expertise is 1) understanding the landscape of options, having worked with virtually all of the technology companies out there (we run an average of 23 events per day, year around), and 2) our ability to not only aggregate and integrate various technologies, but also coalesce the data they generate into actionable analytics for our clients. That’s a huge benefit.

From a customer lifecycle perspective, we serve our clients at all stages. For some, we’re intricately involved with pre-production product launches. For others, we create brand experiences that further educate consumers on the benefits of our clients’ products or services. And for many, we create activations designed to drive revenue immediately. It all depends on what our clients need, though many of them use us for all stages of the lifecycle.

Are there any new features or upcoming upgrades that you’re excited about and would like to give us a sneak peek into?
Sorry, can’t really get into that, other than to say this: artificial intelligence in the experiential space is here now! It’s helping us personalize experiences to a much greater degree, and perhaps more importantly, it’s enabling us to draw very interesting insights into consumer behavior, which very nicely complements the data from other forms for marketing, such as digital activity.

What is your take on the massive explosion of MarTech across so many categories? Do you see competition, opportunities to partner and/or integrate?
Absolutely there are opportunities to integrate. I think one of the most exciting is the fresh ability to take the actual physical brand interaction data we have from events and activations and combine it with marketers’ existing digital data to create a much more holistic view of not only personal groups, but actual individuals. Never before have marketers had the opportunity to access such valuable information. Data from physical interactions at events is an incredibly valuable complement to data marketers typically rely upon.

Could you share for our readers, an infographic or description depicting your marketing stack (various marketing software products or platforms your team uses or subscribes to)?
Ours is pretty simple. We have a website that’s properly coded to generate the analytics we need, and it’s integrated with our marketing automation platform, Pardot. That, of course, is part of the Salesforce suite, so our marketing automation (email, newsletters, invites, etc.) is directly tied to our Salesforce CRM. At any given time I can tell my new business personnel exactly what each prospect or client has consumed, when they did so, and how often they engaged with us.

Scott is a senior marketing and communications executive with experience in branding, marketing automation, PR, advertising, product positioning, lead generation, SEO/SEM, sales management and executive leadership.

He has founded, built and sold businesses, conducted a successful turnaround and helped established companies reposition, clarify their messaging, sharpen their lead generation programs, expand their pipelines and shorten their sales cycles.

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