June 25, 2018

Gross steers Avid Marketing Group's expanding digital focus

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Jonathan Gross shown at Avid Marketing Group's Rocky Hill headquarters, which features a well-stocked bar.

VIEW: Executive Profile: Jonathan Gross

Jonathan Gross

Senior partner, Avid Marketing Group, Rocky Hill.

Highest degree of education: Bachelor's in graphic design and photography, UConn, 1976.

Executive insights: You have to make your clients' job easier, plus maintain communications at all time.

Jonathan Gross was working at an advertising agency in the 1980s when he thought he could do the work better and start his own firm.

He launched Avid Marketing Group (AMG) from his Glastonbury condo in 1986, partnered with a husband-wife team and turned the small company — which was doing basic brochure, business card and logo work — profitable in 65 days, paid back a $10,000 loan from his mom within four months and was on his way.

Today, AMG is based in a Rocky Hill office complex, employs 44 people and is hiring, has clients all over North America and more than $10 million in annual revenue. Gross said AMG morphed into a sales-promotion, shopper-marketing group. It provides digital and print marketing, data analytics, and strategies and tactics for companies primarily in the alcoholic beverage market.

He can toast his previous employer for advice that has served him and AMG well over the last 32 years.

"The reason that my company was a success from day one was because in my previous agency I was taught never to say no to a client and always make their job easier, and that's the key," said Gross, 65.

Gross bought out the husband-wife team after about eight or nine years. But he soon discovered a gem in marketing administrator, DeAnna Drapeau, hired in 1996, and who eventually climbed the corporate ladder.

Gross and Drapeau are senior and managing partners, respectively, with Gross majority owner. Gross manages new business development and finance; Drapeau, client services, sales and operations.

AMG clients sell myriad well-known brands, including Guinness and Corona beer, Captain Morgan rum, Smirnoff vodka, Jose Cuervo tequila and various wines.

Alcoholic beverage clients comprise about 95 percent of AMG's business.

The company engages with potential consumers pre-store and in-store, leveraging analytics to measure promotions' performance and guide future direction.

Pre-store engagement, for example, might include a web-based coupon redeemable for $5 off a beverage product, or an offer to enter a sweepstakes, or asking for an email for more information on a beverage product or other brands.

AMG also does in-store displays, including so-called case cards, to influence shopper behavior, for example to buy Corona. AMG isn't producing those beach-scene TV ads for Corona, though.

"That's what they call above-the-line advertising," Gross said. "We do below-the-line" ads, which are "kind of hidden," but still engaging the consumer.

AMG's work produces significant data on consumer behavior, which it uses to develop marketing strategies.

"No data is shared without permission," Gross said. "Not only is it permission based, it's extraordinarily secure."

AMG's data allows clients to essentially track a customer's path to purchase, whether they saw a product online, through a coupon circular or another medium.

"We're moving into the marketing technology area, which is exciting, but we're also doing the marketing execution … for our clients" and offering them platforms to make it easy, Gross said.

AMG also is working on artificial intelligence and virtual reality in shopper marketing.

Drapeau said AMG, anchored in analytics and insights, focuses on what engages shoppers and motivates purchase.

"Our goal is to continue to expand our capabilities in the digital space, providing solutions for our clients in the beverage alcohol and CPG (consumer packaged goods) categories as well as other verticals," she wrote in an email.

Gross said verticals can include drink mixers, for example. Other goods could be foods or spices that pair well with certain wines, or hamburger buns to go with a beer purchase, partnerships that broaden AMG's client base.

Not all of AMG's work is related to shopper behavior — one of its longtime clients is a life insurance company for which AMG does marketing and advertising work.

Personal side

Gross, a longtime bachelor who married Sarah Turner, an assistant vice president in human resources at The Hartford almost six years ago, says he's obsessed with working out and swimming, which helps him keep up with the couple's young son, Ethan, 2.

"He is fantastic and … has shown us nothing but pure joy," Gross said, acknowledging being a "really old dad."

Gross keeps the office laughing with his "dad jokes," Drapeau wrote. "He has a great sense of humor and a warm heart."

Gross isn't afraid to poke fun at himself, as he demonstrated in recounting a scary incident in 2004 when his 39-foot power boat struck a rock in high winds and seas off the coast of Newport and sank, grateful his friends and Jack Russell Terrier onboard could make an orderly, safe escape to a Coast Guard cutter. While abandoning ship, a Coast Guard member told one of Gross' friends to " 'Give us the little guy first,' " he remembers, to which the friend said, " 'Jonathan, they want you.' " The Coast Guard responded, " 'No, we're talking about the dog.' "

Gross said he's "5-5, maybe, on a really good day — really good day."

Gross still plies the seas, enjoying the freedom. He keeps a boat at Newport and his family takes weekend jaunts to places like Martha's Vineyard and Block Island.

"It's fabulous," he said.

Check out a video clip of Jonathan Gross' interview at hartfordbusiness.com.

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