Fiona Bruder | George P Johnson | Auburn Hills, MI

Over the last decade, the marketing industry has experienced drastic changes in its competitive landscape. Despite the prevailing industry paradigm, market-orientation and leveraging of trends emerge as the key differentiation between growth and failure in service industries. In that context, the role of trends is thought to be pivotal in the market orientation strategy and in the quest for corporate growth and profitability. This is where Experiential Marketing practices excel as a strategy that focuses on the consumer experiencing a brand.

Fiona Bruder, Executive Vice President of Client Success, represents one such successful businesswoman whose marketing strategies are geared toward immersing customers within the product by engaging them in as many ways as possible. She goes by her words “Work in the present and also the future and embrace change as it comes. It’s inevitable and an opportunity for new ideas.”

Below are highlights of the interview conducted between Insights Success and Fiona:

Give a brief overview of your background and your role in George P Johnson Experience Marketing.

My experience and background are in broader marketing— I came to experiential marketing by happenstance, though connecting with people on a deeper level has always been an interest of mine. I started on the client-side of things at IBM. When GPJ became our AOR (agency of record), through collaborating with their team it became clear that based on my skills I would be a better fit on the agency side of the business. Though sometimes those can be predatory situations, it ended up being a joint decision with IBM on how I could best fit their needs. Since then I’ve spent 20 years at GPJ, helping to build out our operating model with our clients, as well as finessing our own. When I was promoted to EVP of Client Success, I took a hard look at establishing best practices and integrating learnings about how to invest in our employees thoughtfully to then deliver for our clients.

How do you diversify your solutions that appeal to your target audience?

Start by understanding. We’re so focused on client success that it’s more like client obsession. In experiential marketing, human engagement is paramount, and that applies to our clients as well as their customers – we want to know their fears, aspirations, measures of success, and pitfalls. Being a successful agency means knowing your client inside and out, and at GPJ we combine that mastery with the commitment to never thinking from a cookie-cutter perspective. Of course, our baseline offerings at GPJ are uniform to ensure success, but when it comes to applying them to our clients, everything is customized.

Describe some of the vital attributes that every businesswoman should possess.

What an enormous question. In my experience, these three traits have served me the most in business: relentlessness, confidence, and empathetic leadership. Women haven’t always been allowed to assume leadership roles, and often it takes quite a bit of tenacity to get there. Don’t be afraid of the pursuit and don’t back down. Once you have that seat at the table, assume your role and trust yourself – you’re there for a reason. Too often women get described as “emotional” as if it’s a detriment to their leadership and I call bull: it takes a great deal of strength and emotional intelligence to be empathetic. At the end of the day, you’re leading other people, and women need to remember that their emotional intelligence and intuition are gifts, not to be stifled because it may make some people uncomfortable. As a leader, you’ll often end up having the final say and being decisive without allowing emotions to get in the way has been key to my success.

What were the past experiences, achievements or lessons that shaped your journey?

One experience stands out as having taught me a lesson that sticks with me today. I was a conference manager during an event with hundreds of people in the audience. A speaker from Paramount Pictures was doing a presentation on the launch of DVDs (remember those things?) and had shown up with the wrong presentation. I started sweating and scrambling – I didn’t have a backup plan. At that very moment, looking on as hundreds of attendees started taking their seats, I made a promise to myself to always have a backup plan in the future. To this day, I am always the most prepared person in the room.

What were some of the primal challenges and roadblocks that you faced during the initial phase of your journey?

Believe it or not, I struggled when I was younger with finding my voice. People never believe me when I say it since I’ve become a much more vocal presence and have grown into my confidence, but truly, it took a lot for me to find my voice early in my career. Finding my tribe was important in that journey. You need to have people that you trust with your career, people that are reliable and can validate things for you. When I would run into issues, I always used to ask my best friend, “What would a man do?” to make sure that I wasn’t watering myself down to make other people feel more comfortable. I applied that filter in my mind anytime I would make a move or questioned a tactic, and it’s helped immensely to give me conviction in my decisions.

What is your advice for emerging women entrepreneurs?

Don’t think of yourself as a “woman-leader”, you’re a leader. Leadership has no gender. Don’t apologize for being strong or opinionated—you have a seat at the table, get comfortable in it. And always pull other women up. The only way we’re going to break through oppressive systemic structures is to lift the rest of the community as you rise. There’s room for everyone.

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