Exclusive Interview with Josh McCall, Chairman and CEO of Jack Morton Worldwide
On September 28, 2016, Josh McCall, the Chairman & CEO of Jack Morton Worldwide visited Princeton University to give a BT sponsored talk entitled “A Journey to Extraordinary – From door to door sales to leading a global marketing agency.” In his talk, Mr. McCall covers a brief history of Jack Morton Worldwide, the products that have earned fame and recognition for the firm in the age of “branding experiences”, and lessons from his personal experience that serve as advice to college students and millennials seeking their path into the professional world. Following his talk, BT had the opportunity to interview Mr. McCall about his experiences working with Jack Morton, the overall brand experience industry, and his advice to current college students.

Interview with Josh McCall
Conducted by Paul Kigawa ‘19
Transcribed by William Liu '19

BT: I know there are a lot of undergrads here who are interested in the marketing and advertising space. On behalf of a lot of us here, what advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college? What kinds of skillsets are important for not only finding a job, but succeeding and sticking with it?

Josh McCall: I would pick up on what I said about passion. Set your goals and target against opportunities that you have a lot of passion for. You may not get that opportunity right away, but keep that north star of where you want to go. Sometimes in my situation, it took me a job that wasn’t really where my passion lied to get to me one that ended up where I was. It is not uncommon to have this stepping stone. I also think it’s very important to know that companies are really interested in your generation.

There are 75 million millennials in the United States alone, and there has been so much disruption and change that has occurred in your lifetime, which is now affecting the realities of our world. You have grown up with communication, social media, the smartphone, etc. and you know more about these realities than anyone else. Companies are very interested in what you can bring to the table, so participate. Don’t just learn, but engage. Just as you may be graded on participation in class, ultimately you will be graded the same way in your careers.

Beyond that, remember to ask for help. You are not going to know everything no matter where you may go. Many of you will be working at internships, and these are great opportunities to see if what you think you want to do is actually what you want to do. For example, you may think you want to get into M&A, and you may get an opportunity at one of the world’s leading M&A firms, but you may go there and realize “Wow, this really isn’t for me”. Or you may find it is exactly what you want and be ready to sign on immediately. Use internships as an opportunity to feel things out and get a sense for what that type of business or industry is about.

The last thing I’ll say in this regard is that I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs. Many of my friends are happiest and most successful as entrepreneurs. Back to the concept of passion, think about things that you can do entrepreneurially, and take a swing at it. You are young, you have the opportunity to live on a skinny budget and take some risks. Don’t be shy about that.

BT: You mentioned starting out not really sure where you would go, and taking a job as a door to door salesman. What moment in your career made you decide that advertising was the path you wanted to take? Did you ever question that choice?

JM: As soon as I got into Jack, I was really having fun and skipping to work. When I graduated, I thought “advertising”, and at that time advertising was all about print, radio, and TV. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. But then I found this business at Jack Morton Worldwide that wasn’t about traditional print or radio advertising. It was still marketing and communications, and I worked hard at it, was good at it, and was consistently challenged by the industry, so I stayed.

BT: In the last 33 years, advertising has changed from print/radio to more than the internet: social, mobile, everything. How have you kept Jack Morton on the cusp amid all this disruption?

JM: First thing I would say is that the disruption has been fortuitously good for Jack Morton. What happened was the traditional strategies became less effective, and the non-traditional became more effective. We were in the non-traditional category, so dollars that were traditionally spent in the older forms of media began to flow our way. We were in the right position at the right time, so our basket of services has become more valuable. When you couple our ability to create live brand experiences with the ability to amplify these events through social channels that capture the live experience, we greatly benefited from the innovations in technology that is so much a part of our lives today.

What I’ve also done is, with the support and financial backing of our parent company, acquire a 130-person digital agency that is truly skilled in the creation and technical capability to help us deliver experiences. I was just visiting one of our operations down the road in Princeton. With Audible, the audiobook company, we created a trade show booth experience where you can put on headphones and have an iPad kiosk in which you have a 8 player game. You have a total of 6 potential books playing, and the player has to determine which book you are hearing. This was a neat way to introduce and leverage technology into the trade show experience.

BT: In recent years, millennials in particular have been transitioning from a buying culture focused on purchasing physical collections to a more experiential, particularly in music. How did you market experiences over the years, and how has the demand for experiences changed since then?

JM: We live in an experience economy. We are all excited and enthusiastic and fans of great experiences. When these events are great, we shout about them, we share them, we promote them. When they suck, we tell the world that too. The ability for us to be in a space that helps brands create experiences that reach their target audiences again and again is what we strive to achieve.

BT: A lot of companies are interested in going into the experiences space. How do you find the clients you work for, and how do you choose the projects to work with?

JM: I often say that we are judged by the company we keep, so I’ve been privileged over the course of my career to have worked with many of the world’s top brands. Today, those great brands may include brands that are less well known, but are innovative and disrupting their industries. We’re about to launch a program for Oculus, which Facebook owns. Virtual reality is yet another extremely face moving part of branding and marketing to immerse yourself virtually into an experience.

We have an Oculus at one end of the spectrum, with T-Mobil disrupting the wireless industry in that area, and General Motors, the age old stodgy American car company, really reinventing their product and making themselves more competitive with the Japanese, German, and Korean importers. We cover a neat spectrum of companies, and in most cases our clients are clients that really make noise to promote themselves for growth. They need and want us to be part of that journey with them.

BT: Where do you see Jack Morton 5, 10, 20 years down the road? How can you stay a step ahead of your competitors?

JM: The first and most important thing I think about in that regard is the 4th CEO of Jack Morton. That’s an important responsibility I have to identify and develop and get that person ultimately in place to take this business beyond where I have been able to take it. Beyond that, we will continue to do what we have always done, which has been to listen to our customers’ needs and adapt and evolve to meet those needs.

The business was founded in 1939 by Jack Morton himself to create music and entertainment events for industry and trade associations in Washington DC. For instance, if the American Bankers Association was having their big convention, he would get Bob Hope or Jack Benny or some other well-known personality/entertainer/comedian/performer to entertain that audience. You look back at what he was doing versus what we are doing today, and it’s why we still use celebrities in many cases. The way we use these celebrities and how we create the experiences have evolved over the decades, and that will continue. We will continue to look at tools like virtual reality, social media, and content marketing, build expertise, create new streams of revenue to serve our clients with offerings that are relevant to the way they need to position, promote and market themselves.

BT: For those of us graduating in a few years, what’s the experience like working at an ideas-led brand experience agency like Jack Morton versus your run-of-the-mill marketing or digital agency?

JM: I think that a lot of people say that we have a great culture: our values, our passion, our agility, and respect. We really live by those values, so we strive to have a group of people who are extremely passionate about what they do, where they are respectful of each other, and are agile enough to meet the demands of the clients amid the changes and craziness that it takes to pull off some of the work we do, which can be exciting yet challenging.

In addition to that, I think there’s an air of the “family business” in the culture that we still experience today. People will tell me that we are different from other places they have worked both in our own industry and in the larger marketing services industry in how much we care about our people, how well we communicate internally. As a result, we have a relatively low voluntary turnover rate within our industry, and a pretty strong list of tenured people who have decided to make Jack their home for their career.

BT: Before someone steps into Jack Morton for their first day of the job, what three things would you recommend them?

JM: Be curious, participate, and learn.

  • Richard

    I agree. A wise businessman in the Caribbean named Sir Kyffin Simpson always said that the key to success is progression and humility, and clearly he’s done very well for himself as a self made man!

  • John Andrews

    The Airgain IPO launches this week, and they’re a one-brand company.

    Some investors don’t think it’s a good stock though:


  • Cincinnati World Cinema

    Well said, Joe, and worth rereading on a regular basis! Another advantage of small-to-midsize city living is pace and competition. Living in NYC, LA and SF entailed a hectic pace, hallmarked by capital S striving, as one realized there were a ton of others doing what I do. Spending so much time in one’s car in SoCal meant much less time for quality pursuits and pleasures. A smaller pond with relaxed pace allows one to savor life and special moments.

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