Make Time for Giving Praise. We host weekly all-agency meetings, and we’ve implemented a silly award called the “Top Banana” — complete with a trophy of a banana that travels from desk to desk in the office for outstanding work that week. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s a fun way to recognize the efforts of our employees. We’ve found that it encourages both closer examination of the work of our peers as well as provides a forum for praise. Employees work smarter and harder when they are recognized for their efforts, and it’s important for us to create space for a job well done.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Brown.
Peter is the Vice President, General Manager and co-founding partner of G7 Entertainment Marketing and brings more than twenty-five years of expertise in experiential and entertainment marketing to the company. In his role at G7, he manages the operations of the agency while also staying focused on client relations, program delivery, and employee development. He has a passion for the kind of one-on-one connections produced through fan experiences and live events and has been lucky enough to work with great brands in the music, sports and lifestyle space, including Jeep, YETI, Covergirl, Fireball, Kingsford and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Happy to, thanks for the opportunity! I am originally from the Detroit area, went to college at Washington & Lee University in Virginia and have been working in event, experiential and entertainment marketing ever since, minus a brief hiatus as a financial advisor.
I spent my early years after college executing incentive travel and consumer events for Carlson Marketing Group. It was a great first job for me. As part of an execution team, it was a straight travel job, where I was sent into the field to help manage events. We did all kinds of amazing programs all over the world and in that time, I really learned how to quickly size up people and situations and execute under pressure but had great mentors along the way that shaped me.
Eventually I decided to try my luck in a different field and took a job as a financial advisor. I liked the company and the people, but it was during this time period that I really felt the call back into the events world and took a job at George P. Johnson, a global experiential marketing agency based in Auburn Hills, MI. It was a wonderful experience and was where I really began to understand what it was to manage people. Even as a more junior level employee, I was responsible for managing field teams, budgets and clients and learned many lessons along the way.
In 2008, my partner, Andre and I moved down to Nashville to begin an entertainment marketing practice within George P. Johnson and then once we got our legs underneath us, we began practicing our craft under the name G7 Entertainment Marketing, while still remaining a sister agency of George P. Johnson.
Over the last 11 years, we have grown the business from a dynamic duo into a team of 40 unique individuals helping brands reach their consumers or as we like to say, “fans” through entertainment marketing. We specialize in entertainment strategy, experiential marketing and talent booking.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was 22 years old working at my first event management company, I was on an incentive travel program where we were organizing for large automaker’s dealers. This trip was amazing, we flew into Athens, Greece did some tours there and then led the group of 50 or so couples on a private cruise to some of the Greek Isles, then to Egypt and eventually Israel. Part of my responsibility was to coordinate on the ground advance work for our tours of Cairo, Giza and the Great Pyramids. Our ship pulled into port at Alexandria and I was supposed to get off the ship, meet my contact who would take me to Cairo and then I would meet with the local contacts and ensure everything was all set for our guests who would be arriving two days later. When I got off the ship it was very dark and there was nobody to meet me. I was escorted by some military personnel with machine guns into a waiting area where they promptly took my passport and had me wait while several unfriendly soldiers just stared at me. This process took a long time and the port was completely empty and I was getting really uncomfortable. Then I remembered I had some candy in my backpack and pulled some out and shared it with the stoic soldiers. In a matter of seconds, they became friendly and then all of a sudden my passport was returned, I cleared customs and was on my way to meet my contact.
Over the next few days, I got all my work done and had several hours of free time late in the day. I somehow befriended a guy around my age that worked in a gift shop and he took me on an amazing adventure through Cairo that included a flavored tobacco smoking and tea session in a part of town with no tourists, as well as an impromptu boat ride where dancing was involved — you never know what experiences are going to unfold while on location!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This mistake is not really funny, but it is a mistake that I tend to come back to as a learning lesson over and over…
Early in my career at George P. Johnson I was managing the execution budget management of a large trade show booth for a client. I was heading into the project feeling like I had been well trained and spent a significant amount of time advanced planning that everything was going to go as expected. Once we got to the event it was the opposite. As it turned out there were some complexities involved with overhead lighting and electrical that I had not understood when I estimated the job, which led to going WAY over budget on that portion of the project. The funny thing was that I had advance knowledge of my error prior to my bosses or clients knowing about it and rather than tell someone immediately, I let it eat me up for a couple days. I was terrified that I may lose my job over the mistake. Eventually I fessed up to my supervisor and rather than being fired, he listened to me and immediately told me that we would figure out a solution together. He said that I was new and though I made the mistake, it was on him to fix it as he was responsible for me. In summary, he would have my back.
What I Learned: Of course what I did not know then that I do now, is that new employees inevitably make mistakes, it is part of the growth process and I swear I have relayed that story over and over to employees when they have made mistakes with financial repercussions. I have chosen to model the behavior of my old manager and had their back, figuring out a solution with them.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on the best way to retain talent today?
I think that employees are more focused on their individual journey within their organization, how they fit in, how they are heard and valued more than ever before.
Based on that, I think being transparent and open with employees is a great policy. If we as leaders are open to sharing information and in turn open to listening to employees’ needs, it goes a long way to build trust and confidence in leadership.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
I am guessing that our teams may not be considered “large” in comparison to many readers, but for our company we use all forms of communication to keep everyone on the same page. We also remind people that everyone does not work the same way. Certain employees love to email, while others might need a conversation. We find weekly staff meetings are great ways to share topline agency information, but smaller team meetings and weekly syncs with managers are necessary to drill down into the details and also provide a forum for employees to ask questions, be mentored and raise any small issues so they don’t bubble up into big ones.
We have also had a lot of success with doing things that allow the team to get out of the office and get to know each other on a different level. We do fun outings, the occasional pot luck, community service projects as well as programs like CliftonStrengths training.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
Process, Process, Process
We work in a highly creative field, and we’re lucky that the people we hire have big creative ideas and opinions. We aim to be as collaborative as possible, but when everyone has a strong point of view, it’s crucial to implement processes for narrowing down our best ideas. At the beginning, our client brainstorms left us with full whiteboards and cluttered minds. As we’ve grown we’ve honed our strategy so that there’s a core team dedicated to pairing down ideas and a person with the designated “final say.” This has led to better constructive ideation, discussion and, in the end, better ideas for our clients.
Regular Reviews are Important, Really.
Starting out we implemented the standard yearly review — it was a necessary evil. We quickly realized this wasn’t enough. As we grew we brought in more people at a multitude of different places in their careers. In today’s workforce, turnover is high and the younger generation is regularly questioning their career path. In order to help people grow and feel they have upward trajectory within our organization, we’ve adopted mid-year reviews, bi-weekly manager meetings, and a formal mentorship program to ensure we’re always thinking critically about growth and meeting the needs of each employee.
Walk the Walk
When I was getting started in the workforce, there was a culture of blindly following the leader without question — I don’t think that’s the case in the modern work environment. Offices are much less hierarchical these days, for the better! A good idea can come from anywhere, and collaboration has been a key to our success. This also means that I never ask my employees to do something I wouldn’t do or have not done myself. I am just as eager to pitch in and fold t-shirts or wipe down a display at an event as I am to deliver a pitch to a CMO. My team knows this and therefore is willing to push forward with me. I truly believe in the notion of the servant leader and know we will be successful if we can develop that trait within members of our organization.
Make Time for Giving Praise.
We host weekly all-agency meetings, and we’ve implemented a silly award called the “Top Banana” — complete with a trophy of a banana that travels from desk to desk in the office for outstanding work that week. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s a fun way to recognize the efforts of our employees. We’ve found that it encourages both closer examination of the work of our peers as well as provides a forum for praise. Employees work smarter and harder when they are recognized for their efforts, and it’s important for us to create space for a job well done.
You Can’t Be Everyone’s Cup of Tea
There is no crystal ball that can tell you whether a prospective employee will be the perfect culture fit. We do everything we can to hire the best people possible, but in a growing organization there will likely be instances where the culture you’ve created simply doesn’t mesh with each employee. At G7 we tend to be a really tight group, and over the years we’ve developed a cadence for working together, unspoken best practices, and a curated environment. It simply won’t always work for everyone that we hire, and that’s okay. We accept each other and like the way we work! When someone new gets onboard and fits right in, that’s amazing! But it’s not always a given, and that is perfectly fine.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
At your foundation, culture must be a priority. It needs to permeate the entire organization, but it always starts at the top. At the start we honed in on our core values, spent time working on processes that improve communication, and implemented formal mentoring. We’ve done our best to create moments outside of traditional work to grow relationships between employees for a familial, hospitable and inclusive culture, and it’s served us well. Be intentional about the environment that you want to create for your employees and take the tangible steps to make it a reality.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to the imbalance of wealth and access to basic human needs. In a booming city like Nashville, I’m stunned that hunger can exist alongside huge amounts of food waste in restaurants. These isn’t a new problem by any means, but I’m inspired by the little steps that people can take in their daily lives to create large collective action. For example, I love to barbeque on the weekends. It’s a passion of mine and something I like to do in my time off, and when I get my friends involved, there’s an abundance to eat! We can then take this food around to help feed those in need. I believe in people bringing together their skills and their passions to make a difference — it’s a win/win for everyone involved and makes a difference in our communities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Last year I read Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, the story of the University of Washington rowing team that defied the odds to become Olympic champions in 1936. It describes how unique individual talent is wasted if it cannot be harnessed and melded with other complementary talents to form the strongest possible team. As a leader in a growing agency, I am constantly looking at how to build the strongest team and really drew from the themes in this book. A favorite passage I draw from is below:
“Neither is necessarily a better or more valuable oarsman than the other; both the long arms and the strong back are assets to the boat. But if they are to row well together, each of these oarsmen must adjust to the needs and capabilities of the other. Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat…Only in this way can the capabilities that come with diversity…be turned to advantage rather than a disadvantage.”