My Event World - Jonathan Terry

Jonathan Terry, integrated partner/head of JWT Live at J. Walter Thompson (JWT), spoke to Event about his DJ career, love of the mountains and desire to switch places with Sir Martin Sorrell.

Jonathan Terry is the integrated partner/head of JWT Live at J. Walter Thompson
Jonathan Terry is the integrated partner/head of JWT Live at J. Walter Thompson

I got into the event industry because… I started up my own club nights at Leeds University, using my student loan for capital. It got me started in the music business, where I stayed for some time before moving into agency life. I loved the music industry and made a lot of great friends, but it’s an exhausting lifestyle.

I have worked here since 2011.

I was attracted to this particular role because JWT had no expertise in experiential. It was a voyage into the unknown for both parties, but allowed me to define a new business within the agency.

I had another option, but the team here gave me a wide-ranging role with ownership and independence. I’ve been able to do my own thing, which means a lot to me.

Not many people know that I spent a few years as a professional DJ, and played in Australia, Brazil, America, all over Europe including Kosovo and of course, London. The biggest gig was for 5,000 people in Brazil. I loved it, but the travelling combined with a working week broke me in the end.

The experience taught me how to genuinely read an audience and tread a delicate line: give them what they want, but also give them what they don’t know. It’s a very empathetic, unique art form and different to live band performance. You can change direction at any moment.

The best event I’ve been involved was the Shell kinetic pitch project in Rio. It was a once in a lifetime perfect storm where the brand, creative idea, client, location, talent and timing all came together to create a game-changing project.

Refurbishing a derelict pitch that the community had used for 50 years captured the world’s attention and gave us iconic film and photographic content. Most importantly, it transformed the community. 

More recently, my team produced a launch for Penfolds fine wines that blew everyone’s socks off. It involved a wine tasting followed by a three-course meal, combined with performances by the Royal Opera House at Somerset House.

It’s one of those events that will go unnoticed, but it was quite extraordinary – the lady next to me was moved to tears. The set, food, drinks and music, venue, timings and service were perfect. People talk about ‘experience’ with no sense of what it means, let alone how to create one. The people in that room now know that exactly, and will do forever.

If I could do it all over again I would make sure the music festival I started carried on going. I managed two years, and broke even the second year, but I’d lost a fair amount of money and decided to re-focus.

It’s such a huge thing to do each year and was so consuming – it felt like a manifestation of my character. I decided to re-focus after the second year, and it’s my biggest regret. I often consider it a failure, although everyone else says otherwise.

The one thing I can’t stand is soft apples. They need to be crunchy. I get really upset when I bite and its just… mush. In events, I hate queues. It shows a total lack of respect for your guests and always signposts a deeper sickness. 

Outside of work I spend my time skiing, cooking, running and biking (in order of importance). And being hit by my kids.

Spending time in the mountains is the thing I love most. They are incredibly humbling places to be, making you acutely aware of your mortality in a very positive way. Before we had kids, Emma and I took sabbaticals and spent six months living in a ski resort called Jackson Hole. I miss it so much that my lock screen is a photo from there. 

If money were no object I would be climbing a mountain with skis on my back as often as possible. For work, I’d open incredible hotels in amazing locations. Hotels have the potential to be the ultimate in experience design. Not just the architecture, but what you do each day and night.

If I could switch places with anyone else in the industry it would be my ultimate boss, Sir Martin Sorrell. Not the most obvious choice, but if you’re in communications, which I consider myself to be, he’s the man.

He has visibility across clients, agencies, government and supra-national level. He can affect the direction of the industry. He moves from micro to macro meetings, from world leaders to agency pitches. A fascinating set of shoes to experience. He’s always completely engaged and focussed if you meet him, which is such a positive trait.

If I ruled the event industry I would introduce and deploy a standardised measurement and evaluation system that the industry uses to measure the effectiveness of their work – brand reputation, NPS, message recall et al.

Clients need help to buy work, and understand what good work is. I’m a huge believer in creativity, but I’m also a big believer in effectiveness. Effective creative work earns agencies the trust of their clients, meaning they get re-briefed, presenting an opportunity to do better, more creative work. That only happens if you can prove your work was commercially brilliant. As a lot of DJs know, you’re only as good as your last gig. 

More: My Event World - Celia Forshew

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