Jack Morton’s new co-presidents are ready to lead the new ‘age of experiential’
Jack Morton’s 20-year chief exec Josh McCall is stepping back to a chairman emeritus role. The Drum sat down with his two successors, new co-presidents Bill Davies and Craig Millon, to talk about their plans to lead the way in a new era of experiential marketing.
Jack Morton’s new co-presidents Craig Millon and Bill Davies on the future of their agency and experiential marketing / Image courtesy of Jack Morton
Last month, brand experience agency Jack Morton announced two new co-presidents, Bill Davies and Craig Millon, while long-time chief executive Josh McCall has stepped back to a chairman role (becoming chairman emeritus in 2023).
The pair, both based in Boston, will become the first co-presidents in the company’s history, while McCall himself was only its third chief exec since its inception 83 years ago. Sharing leadership responsibilities, Davies takes on operations and finance; Millon will oversee client relationships, growth and its agency offerings.
Both have long histories at Jack Morton and parent company IPG: Davies was chief financial officer at sibling agency Weber Shandwick before becoming Jack Morton’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the last 20 years. Millon recently served as Jack Morton’s chief client officer after early-career roles client side for the likes of Revlon and Gillette. He also stays on as chief exec of Jack Morton’s digital agency Genuine.
Millon was recruited by Davies a decade ago; the new executive line-up, says Davies, “reflects the way Craig and I complement each other.” For Millon, “Bill and I have a partnership like a marriage ... We think this combination of the two of us helps us really think about how we can move the agency forward and continue this legacy Josh set for the agency when he took the role 20 years ago.”
Core to the partnership, says Millon, will be a “shared set of values” about people (“we only have one really important resource – the resource that all of our clients see and that creates all of our work”) and a shared vision: “To be the best experiential agency in the world.”
‘To be the best experiential agency in the world’
Davies says the pair’s short-term focus will be to capitalize on a “growth spurt” as the firm “comes roaring out of the pandemic.” Split responsibilities, he says, will get them “further faster.” Keen to allay any fears that a split role will mean slow decision-making, he says “we’re moving really fast, and we’ll continue to. That’s a commitment we’ve made to each other and to the agency.”
The timing looks pretty good. As Millon has it, not only is there a “pent-up demand for live experiences” on the long road out of the Covid-19 pandemic, “we found that clients actually took the value of experience and moved it a little closer to the center of the marketing mix over this period.”
With that shift to the center, Millon says, experiential marketers face two major challenges. First, to make their work as measurable (and therefore justifiable) as the digital work it now sits alongside. And, second, to recognize quite how category-agnostic the comparisons of clients and customers alike are in the modern media ecosystem: “The bar isn’t what’s happening in my corporate experience over here; the bar is whatever’s happening that’s engaging me.”
One growth area, says Millon, is a doubled-down commitment to innovation arm Jack X, to push the dual frontiers of digital and live and “make more engaging, more powerful experiences.” Likewise with digital agency Genuine: “What can we do on an innovation [in] full digital, without losing our heritage for live?”
The pair also has high hopes for ‘diversity-driven marketing agency’ Vivi, headed up by Jack Morton alum Bonnie Smith.
For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the experiential space, the pair’s third growth focus may be surprising: health. Not long ago considered to be too tightly regulated and risky for big experiential work, healthcare, Millon says, is booming as “healthcare brands become more human” and “want to do a different level of marketing.” New “practice brand” Jack Health is helping it to become “a main portion of our business.” As an estimate, he says, healthcare has already become about a fifth of the agency’s business, with 14 major clients on their roster.
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The ‘age of experiential’
As experiential moves to a more central position in the marketing ecosystem, Jack Morton will be feeling pretty happy with its existing expertise in the space. If the “age of experiential” is dawning, says Millon, it means a few things at once: “seamlessly moving through experiences”; “live blended into virtual”; and “longer tails, where the experience can go on as long as a client wants to engage that audience.” The upshot is that “for years, experiences were a single moment in time ... now we’re seeing that an experience is a relationship.”
For Davis, this means that faithful old brand levers are becoming less reliable. “This industry was largely built around the 30-second TV commercial. With every day, cords are being cut and those consumers are harder to reach. That powerful tool in the bag, while it’s not going away, is less important.” An increasingly familiar mantra is that the new responsibility is to show up perfectly at ‘every touchpoint,’ which means that “the dance floor is getting pretty crowded in the brand experience space.” The pair seem confident, though, that their legacy in the space and a focus on talent will help them outdance the competition with “passion, agility and respect.”
Davies jokes that, when McCall announced his retirement, “his shoes were so big to fill that Craig was going to fill the left one and I was going to fill the right one. Daunting? Yes. Exciting? Beyond belief.”
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