For the first time since graduating from Harvard Business School more than 20 years ago, Jason Popp has returned to the United States for a domestic-based role. We recently sat down with Jason to learn about his career in the global events industry, understand why company culture is important to him and what live events might look like in a post-pandemic world.
The easiest way for me to explain Moss is we transform physical spaces into impactful, branded experiences, whether that is at a trade show, a conference, a retail space or a corporate environment. Through fabrication and graphic production, Moss creates unique, memorable experiences for our clients that match their values and are relevant to the audiences they want to target. The Holy Grail, of course, is when you can ultimately tie that three-dimensional live experience with the digital experience. It’s an exciting and dynamic industry. I’m attracted to it because it's fun, creative and fast-paced. I’ve been to probably 1,000 live events in my career on every continent. And there's just something electric about showing up on opening morning. You walk in and there are smiling faces and a buzz in the air.
I’m very passionate about this topic. It’s critical for me to enhance the culture in a way that is consistent with my values. I’m very proud of the culture that I created at GES, which, when I left, was a team of over 1,000 people, around 30 nationalities in seven or eight international offices.
At Moss, because I began at the beginning of November 2020, the team was largely working from home and has continued to work from home. Still, I noticed that the people within Moss were very comfortable working in their particular specialty areas, so I instituted cross-functional roundtables with me. I invited one person from each of the departments and in many cases those folks had not really met or interacted much with each other, which was interesting. These have become 90-minute, cross functional conversations with folks in a very honest and open way, about what they like about the company, what they’d like to change and I think, for them, it has been really eye opening, in a good way.
The second thing we've instituted are face-to-face town hall meetings. I do it with a mask on here in the office for our production staff, who are also here. I think that’s important for people who are still in an office environment, to make sure they are remembered, too.
For those working remotely I do a "Three for Thursday" video - I do this every Thursday and I’ve been very rigorous about this. It's a short, pre-recorded video usually done in one take, very off-the-cuff, very conversational and very honest and sincere about what my thoughts are coming out of that week. It might be an update on how we're doing in a particular business segment, thoughts about what I've seen that makes me really proud or something that I’ve looked at and said, ‘this is something that we need to fix.’
I can see the metrics in terms of the views and the feedback has been astounding. I’ve received many direct messages or emails saying ‘Look, we appreciate this, it's great hearing directly from you.’ The team understands that it’s right from me, not through the marketing department or our PR folks. It’s very authentic and I think it resonates.
In the short term, the pandemic is going to make events slightly smaller and probably more regional because international travel is going to be tricky for a while. But that doesn't necessarily make the events less effective. The pandemic will give us the opportunity to focus on the attendee experience and quality versus quantity. There is so much data available around people's behaviors at trade shows, so you can track engagement levels, how many days did they attend, and which exhibitors did they visit and interact with? I tell my team at Moss that my philosophy with the pandemic is not to be in survival mode, but to think about how we can be that much better, post-pandemic, for our customers and shareholders. Ultimately, we will end up having even better products and experiences.
I’ve been really lucky that I lived overseas for 10 years and worked overseas for virtually my entire adult life. In fact, this is the first role where, fundamentally, I am based domestically, although Moss does have significant operations in Germany and in China.
Looking back, I went to a trade show in China in the early 2000s not really knowing what to expect. When I walked onto the trade show floor, I saw that there were booths that looked like a booth that you would see in Las Vegas, there were aisles that were created, there were graphics and there were people in suits working their booths and trying to capture the attention of people walking by. It was just a reflection that our similarities, as humans, are just greater than our differences. Here’s a country, especially in the early 2000s that was very different from what we might be familiar with in the United States, but yet, their way of running a face-to-face, business-to-business exhibition was extremely similar.
Over the years, I did lot of business in the Middle East, and I remember at these big, international shows that you have Americans and Russians, Israelis and Saudis, Africans and Europeans, everybody in this kind of a melting pot, microcosm of our world doing business with each other. It’s beautiful, it creates understanding, it creates sort of a oneness that we really miss as a society. With so much division in our politics and in our policy, I believe that bringing people together into a live, in-person environment takes down those barriers, and fundamentally, is a good thing for society.
There's just something about being in a live environment, in Camp Randall stadium on a football Saturday with 80,000 other fans.
I’ve always enjoyed sports. I’m a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and we're a big sports school. There's just something about being in a live environment, in Camp Randall stadium on a football Saturday with 80,000 other fans. It’s just so different from the experience that you would get at home watching it on TV.