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GPJ's Robert Vallee is in the Driver's Seat

GPJ's Robert Vallee is in the Driver's Seat

It's hard to picture one of the largest event marketing firms in the world as the family business, but for George P. Johnson CEO Robert G. Vallee Jr., it is. His grandfather founded the firm in 1914, counting Detroit's auto industry among his first clients. Robert Vallee has been at the helm of the company for the last 10 years as the company broadened its client base and capabilities. Here, he looks at challenges down the road.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: The chilling economic news worldwide is putting great pressure on business and consumers to scale back spending. How does GPJ see this playing out over the coming year?

ROBERT VALLEE: We are definitely seeing the same signs that are giving brand marketers pause and recognize that budgets have to stay in line with organizational priorities affected by the current economic climate. Fortunately, while live experiences are an important part of the marketing mix in good times, they become absolutely essential when times get tough. No other medium is as cost-effective or as successful at cutting through the clutter and moving customers to a purchase behavior — and repeat purchase behavior — like experience marketing.

One of the ways we are able to provide value to clients during this downturn is by helping them to more closely and strategically evaluate the effectiveness of their events and event portfolios. Through our strategic portfolio planning model, we drive out waste and redundancy from the event program life cycle, eliminating unnecessary spending.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Of particular note, of course, is GPJ's original automaker base, which is facing tremen-dous challenges. How is your company adapting to serve these clients?

VALLEE: We are incredibly loyal to our automotive clients worldwide, and over time we have evolved our capabilities to help them extend their reach using GPJ as a platform. Right now, they're looking for new ways to reach and engage consumers. The way we're helping them do that is by rethinking traditional automotive marketing programs to combine, say, an online marketing component with auto-show marketing and mobile marketing tours to put clients at the center of their customers' world. At the same time, we're cross-pollinating the ideas and technologies we leverage to serve the sectors that make up other areas of our portfolio, namely technology and life sciences. The idea is to help clients, regardless of industry, sidestep competition and do something completely original that creates its own demand.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Looking at 2009, what will be opportunities for event marketing specialists?

VALLEE: One thing we can count on is that chief marketing officers will be looking more closely at the “agency of record” model. The cost-efficiencies you gain from working through this model are compelling; you're not continuously reeducating agencies about objectives. Working off of one technology system and one set of best practices brings clarity to portfolio spend worldwide. And the obvious operational and creative consistencies you can roll out in compressed time frames become very attractive.

I'd also say that in order to retain customers, expand existing business and attract new customers, brands will be making a shift from event management to strategic event marketing. In a nutshell, creativity and innovation — ideas — are as or more important than production and delivery. We're talking about using events to promote creative ideas that drive integrated marketing campaigns. In this model, live experiences become “idea platforms” that move brands to a life-cycle model, where you're tracking customer touch points across the event portfolio and driving them to a specific purchase or loyalty behavior.

Finally, related to marketing integration, we are promoting a greater emphasis on the connections between face-to-face marketing and digital interactions — a connection we refer to as “GPJ OnLive.” There's a tremendous upside right now to add new dimensions to the live experience using digital platforms, where we can extend and enrich the attendee experience before, during and after an event and translate that into increased brand engagement and bottom line results.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Along those lines, I understand GPJ has made some interesting acquisitions. What new capabilities will the company now have to serve clients?

VALLEE: We recently acquired an online interactive marketing agency, JUXT Interactive, and a mobile device messaging platform, now called GPJ MobilePromote. There are also several other pending investments that will add additional bench strength in emerging markets and media development. This is part of a long-term plan we've had in place for quite some time, and it adds up to GPJ separating itself completely from the rest of the agency pack — a completely new kind of experience marketing agency upon which CMOs can rest an entire event marketing portfolio.

Contact George P. Johnson at

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