July 14, 2024 2:11 PM
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Running Into the Fire

How Spiro Evolved to Delivering New Wow Experiences

by Chris Kappes, Exhibit City News


There’s a saying among firefighters, “Risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot.”  It’s a philosophy that applies not only to battling flames but also to navigating the complex terrain of business evolution.

As the embers of the COVID-19 crisis smoldered, the leadership team at VIAD found themselves at a pivotal juncture, seeking a visionary leader to reinvent their experiential marketing business unit.

With a seasoned background in agency leadership, Jeff Stelmach stepped into this role with a bold mandate: “VIAD leadership said we’re going to run into the fire and bet on you. Take your track record and bring it here. You have the connections; you know the talent. Go build a world class marketing agency.”

That was August 2021; Jeff Stelmach was appointed as the new Global President of Spiro.

No stranger to challenges

Stelmach leaned into his new role after decades of leading event marketing agencies, OPUS, MOSAIC, Ogilvy, and others. “I’ve been an agency-brat my entire life,” Stelmach jokes. “My earliest exposure to marketing was putting toys inside Kellogg cereal boxes.”

From cereal boxes and grassroots marketing activations to building and integrating agencies within agencies, Stelmach’s journey has crisscrossed leading agencies, country, and globe. But the Spiro challenge was different. “The pandemic was a blessing and a curse,” he explains. “When an event like COVID strips a business down to its bare essentials, it is also an opportunity to rebuild the business from scratch and emerge as a stronger, more agile marketing solutions agency.”

Rebuild he did.

“Listening was priority one,” shares Stelmach. “I needed to understand what we had, what it could be, and what we needed as a baseline for a capable group of marketers.”

With some dry power left for investment, Stelmach used it to retool his global management team who worked to reformulate a new agency vision: the global brand experience agency for the NEW NOW™, offering New WOW solutions for their clients. “Change and evolution are the only constants today,” he remarks, “NEW NOW encapsulates the ethos driving Spiro’s transformative journey.”

With each New WOW experience that Spiro creates for its clients, its aim is in “bonding brand & customer” —what Spiro calls “Brand Gravity.”

Explaining Brand Gravity

Rooted in the recognition of change as the only constant in today’s world, creating New WOW experiences for the NEW NOW encapsulated Spiro’s commitment to evolution, agility, and innovation. However, the value the agency offers to its clients and their stakeholders is built on designing for and sustaining priority placement within clients’ customer communities.

Broadly, Stelmach and his team wanted their new message to be: events and experiences exist beyond time and channels. Spiro’s innovative platform empowers marketers to host events anywhere, anytime, seamlessly adapting to audiences’ evolving preferences and behaviors. By mutually understanding audience drivers and engagement motivators, and designing to those behaviors, Spiro works to create a critical bond between brand & customer—positioning brands as priority in the hearts and minds of clients’ most important audiences.

In March 2022, Spiro launched its name (meaning “I breath” in Latin) and brand identity. The identity inspiration manifests from a synthesis of the GES color palette and half a spirograph, called a Spira. The Spiro name and logo were the result. “We call ourselves Spiro•nauts,” smiles Mark Sykes, Spiro senior vice president and global creative director. “We’re innovators who can take your brand, analyze it, and ‘give it wings’ beyond where it normally goes.”

Turning Vision into Reality 

At the core of Spiro’s evolution lies its revolutionary methodology: Community-Centered Experience Design (CCXD™), a holistic approach that transcends traditional event planning, delving deep into economic, cultural, and emotional dynamics to craft experiential solutions. This process needed to be infused throughout the organization requiring months of staff immersion. “In eighteen months, we were a fully functioning agency,” shares Stelmach. “I’m blown away with what we’ve achieved in a few years.”

This was confirmed in the most recent VIAD 2023 earnings. GES and Spiro outperformed expectations with a 7% full year revenue growth and healthy margins. Spiro reported revenues of $283,171M.

Pushing Boundaries

Looking ahead, Stelmach sees the growth of Spiro coming from nurturing and applying CCXD™  into more global regions. “We will push boundaries and continue to evolve,” he shares. The B2C (business to consumer) channel is another exciting area of opportunity for Spiro. “We are very excited about the explosion of woman in sports and our involvement.”

Finally, Stelmach is focused on the company’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. “This is a passion for Spiro associates,” he explains.

Stelmach and Spiro will continue to run into the fire knowing the risks but reaching for the opportunities ahead.


This story originally appeared in the Q2 2024 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 48. For original layout or to read the full story, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_q1_2024.

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