Chris Meyer, CEO Of George P. Johnson, Talks Forming Live For Life Coalition And COVID-19’s Effect On Event Industry
– Chris Meyer
A leader in the corporate and private events space, George P. Johnson is one of the founding partners of the recently formed Live For Life coalition, along with Exploring and Czarnowski.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, GPJ offered everything under the experiential marketing sun, working for corporate behemoths like Dodge, Salesforce.com, Capcom, Nissan, IBM, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google Cloud. The company partners with companies familiar to the entertainment industry like PRG to offer a wide breadth of services from planning and case studying to creative design to fabrication to event production.
Now the Live For Life coalition is mobilizing more than 80 live event production companies to assist in the fight against COVID-19 by establishing patient rooms and testing centers and mobilizing the member organizations for political action.
George P. Johnson CEO Chris Meyer took some time to chat with Pollstar about the Coalition and the impact of COVID-19.
So George P. Johnson bills itself as the largest company in event production with a huge breadth of services. Does that mean you normally offer all of those services in-house and have you had layoffs, furloughs or pay reduction in the wake of COVID-19?
We are the largest company in terms of volume and we are global, but we are dependent on an ecosystem of partners to deliver labor, equipment, the venues, etc.
Yes, in our agency we have done furloughs and pay reduction. Like the travel and airline industries we have been dramatically impacted because we are in live events. We have had a good portion of our clients shift to digital events, which has kept some business going, but this is a big disruption for us.
We’re actually parternered with a lot of our competitors in Live For Life because the impact has been so significant in our industry.
So obviously one of the big challenges that people keep referencing is not knowing when business can resume, making serious planning impossible. Have there been other challenges you are finding?
The other thing that’s unique and challenging in our space is we’re dealing with fear as well. Once we have green light to go back to venues, convention centers, to travel, we are still going to deal with the fear people have.
The return of our business is going to be driven with people getting over that fear as well as government approval, and, obviously, there are economic factors, investments in other activities, etc.
How would you break down the size of your industry to someone unfamiliar with it?
We believe the impact of the economy overall … is $560 billion. That encompasses the economic impact of meetings and events and trade shows, and the impact brands realize through hosting events and marketing tactics. How these events drives pipelines for businesses is additive to the initial number, and that’s not commonly shared, but I know 10-20 percent of our client-revenue pipeline is driven through events. If you extrapolate that to major brands using events as part of their revenue strategy you are talking about and additional hundreds of millions in revenue.
It’s interesting because, in addition to helping out with Live For Life, we are trying to educate government officials on the impact that events have. It’s more clear with airlines, hotels, even Live Nation. But it’s not as well known how significant the live events industry is, it hasn’t been pointed out in the past.
Are you seeing any traction from your education efforts? Are people starting to realize the size of the industry or degree of disruption?
I think the people that are associated with the industry get it. I think the general public and representatives of the government, I don’t think they fully understand yet, so we’re trying to educate through things like this interview and get the efforts of others in the industry more noticed. If your business touches the event industry, you understand it. If not, this has usually been behind the scenes.
The tentacles of this business, how it spreads into travel, hospitality, and jobs in so many sectors (security, catering, etc.), I don’t think that’s understood well at all.
Can you see how the business will be forever changed even after there is a vaccine?
When events can come back this will certainly have an impact on size, scale, design of events. We will have to be mindful of social distancing, of health and safety concerns.
Not only do we have to deal with fear that the general public is going to have of large gatherings, but we have to redesign some of these experiences to make people feel more comfortable.
How did the Live for Life coalition and this effort to pivot toward combating COVID-19 come about?
So we are one of the three founding organizations, with Exploring and Czarnowski. We had a discussion about how can we help during this period, how we could begin to act and help frontline workers and hospitals, especially those of us who have fabrication expertise, who are building and designing things for events. There’s no difference between designing temporary hospitals for convention centers.
We just got ourselves organized based on a high volume of interest in people helping. We started seeing a pipeline of industries saying “Here’s what we need, can you help us?”
What organizations like FEMA are going to need later, we can bring our expertise to bear on that problem. If you think about the events industry, this is what we do. We plan large scale experiences, we move people, we make sure the people are secure and can move around.
A lot of the principles of how we work in events are the same as what is needed from government, healthcare providers. Sometimes you have to make the impossible possible with different stresses in a safe and secure way. FEMA is now assessing who can help us in this fight beyond the national guard and government and we seem to be well positioned based on our experiences and peoples’ desire to help.
What is some of the red tape you have been encountering?
Each state has different guidelines for how you put people back to work. And we have to understand the requirements state by state, sometimes city by city, to comply with the necessary regulations, particularly when it comes to healthcare. Sometimes we need to apply for a permit, since there is concern over liability and protecting employees. Everyone in our consortium wants to help and we are trying to share best practices to follow the guidelines while moving through this process as quickly as we can.
But that’s another plus for us, doing large scale events we often work with municipalities, convention centers, city government. You are starting to see convention centers being converted into hospitals, and we know very well how to navigate those routes, so it helps us make decisions to see if anyone in our coalition can support these efforts.
Anything else you want people to know?
We’re here to help. You see competitors clearly coming together to help the cause. I’ve been surprised by the outpouring of connections from leadership in our industry, traditional partners as well as competitors.
– A testing center built by the Live For Life coaltion