Jack Morton Worldwide
Jack Morton Worldwide
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Interpublic Group of Companies Inc.
Incorporated: 1939 as Jack Morton Enterprises
Sales: $382 million (2005)
NAIC: 541611 Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services
A pioneer in booking entertainment for conventions, Jack Morton Worldwide now bills itself as an experiential marketing company, developing individual events or an ongoing program to help global companies build their brands. A subsidiary of the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., Jack Morton offers meetings and events planning; tradeshow exhibit design services; film and video production; digital media production, including kiosks, CD-ROMS, webcasts and web sites, and text messaging; and training programs for information technology and other subjects. Jack Morton Latino helps clients connect with Hispanic audiences. In addition to its headquarters located in New York City, Jack Morton maintains offices in ten other U.S. cities, most notably Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. International offices are found in London, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing.
FOUNDER BORN: 1910
The man who provided the Jack Morton name was the company’s founder, born Irvin Leonidas Morton in Newport, North Carolina, in 1910, into modest circumstances. Until the age of six, his family lived on a North Carolina farm, raising tobacco and cotton as sharecroppers, but with the death of Morton’s mother, the family was broken up, and he was bandied from one family to the next before returning to live with his father and his new wife. Little emphasis was placed on education, but despite continuous interruptions Morton never gave up on his schooling. He would eventually graduate from high school at the age of 22.
In the meantime, he sold concessions at a baseball park, hawked newspapers, and shined shoes, and at the age of 12 received a taste of the entertainment world, albeit it was a second-run movie theater in Wilson, North Carolina, where he did a little of everything. Two years later he was working in a Raleigh theater, and it was there that he received the name Jack, because a cashier found calling him I.L., his childhood nickname, awkward.
When he was just 17 years old Morton was dispatched to the town of Hamlet to manage the Carolina Theater, which at the time ran only silent pictures, although The Jazz Singer with its talking scenes and musical numbers was forcing even small theaters like the Carolina to install the new Western Electric sound system. In 1930 Morton moved to Charlotte to work for the theater’s parent company, dispatching sound engineers to theaters as needed, and that’s when he took the time to finally earn his high school diploma. Two years later he moved to Washington, D.C., enrolling at George Washington University and supported himself by working at Western Electric, essentially performing the same task as he had done in Charlotte.
Morton joined a fraternity, became a member of the interfraternity council, and soon recognized a business opportunity: booking bands for fraternity dances. After he enjoyed a few successful engagements, bands began to ask him to represent them. He printed up business cards for Jack Morton Orchestras, listing the telephone numbers of the pay phone in his fraternity house and the Western Electric office, where the secretaries, fortunately, did not mind taking messages for him.
Although the business was doing well, after Morton graduated in 1936 and got married he gave it up to take a job as a refrigerator salesman for General Electric. He soon realized, however, that this was not his calling, and less than two years later he was back in Washington booking bands out of his house under the name Jack Morton Enterprises, a name that was later changed to Jack Morton Productions. In addition to fraternities and sororities, he began booking orchestras in hotels, resorts, and night clubs.
By the time the United States entered World War II, Morton’s business was thriving, but as always he kept an eye out for new opportunities. From booking orchestras he knew that the new hotels included large banquet halls complete with sound systems that were ideally suited to host the conventions that trade and professional associations were hosting in increasingly numbers, especially in the nation’s capital where he was based. Morton began to book orchestras for some of these events, especially on their final evenings when a dinner dance was often held. As the war came to an end in 1945, Morton began to focus more of his attention on the convention business, offering three-act shows that included local singers and a magic act.
To expand his pool of talent, Morton traveled to New York to visit the top nightclubs and The Palace Theater, where he paid an usher to send him the weekly programs, noting the audience reaction to each act. In this way, he built up an extensive file of available singers, dancers, comedians, and specialty acts. A New York convention producer, Al Rock, then served as his agent to bring these acts to Washington, but in short order Morton was able to handle the booking himself.
MORTON’S BIG BREAK: 1948
Morton’s major break came in 1948 when he was hired by the American Trucking Association (ATA) to provide the entertainment at its annual convention, to be split between two hotels, which required shuttling acts back and forth. Morton pulled it off and established a long-term relationship with the ATA that led to opportunities to produce convention shows for many major groups, including Ford, General Motors, the National Automobile Dealers Association, International Harvester, the National Association of Food Chains, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and several insurance companies and banking groups.
With larger clients came larger budgets, no longer was Morton scaring up vaudeville acts. Instead, he was able to begin booking some of the era’s top names in show business, including Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, and Red Skelton. He would also help to build the careers of such emerging talents as Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, and Bob Newhart.
Another important factor in Morton’s success was his sense of propriety, which coincided with the changing trends in convention fare. For years they were little more than bachelor parties, replete with cigars, plenty of alcohol, gambling, and exotic dancers. Too prudent to be associated with such affairs, Morton arranged for the kind of respectable entertainment that meeting planners sought, and they came to rely on his sense of judgment and taste. Moreover, he was reliable and honest, factors that won over big name talent who were all too familiar with the shifting values of Hollywood and Broadway.
As a leading experiential marketing agency, we help the world’s best companies build brands, sales and success by creating experiences that engage and transform employee, business and consumer audiences.
Morton sought to expand his business by opening branch offices in convention towns: Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Hollywood, and Miami Beach. He soon realized, however, that he would be better served by establishing offices in the cities where the clients maintained their headquarters. The branches were all shuttered, even the Detroit location, which despite being home to the automakers, was regarded as an “insiders’ town”, less receptive to hiring nonnatives. In time, Morton discovered that the best office locations were Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco.
Outside of providing entertainment for conventions, Morton began producing what became known as “industrials,” live entertainment used by companies to motivate their employees or launch a new product. Hence, in the 1960s and 1970s he steadily added the capabilities to become a full-service provider, including exhibit design, media, and event staging and production. Explaining the purpose of industrials to the New York Times in 1975, Morton said: “You can’t bring people together and just talk to them. You have to do something special, something unusual to excite their senses. We create a total experience, environment.” In addition, Morton recognized that corporations needed ways to motivate their employees beyond the production of extravaganzas, and he added training and communications services.
While not widely known to the general public, Jack Morton, the son of a sharecropper, became friends with some of the world’s most famous entertainers and worked closely with top executives at some of the world’s most prestigious companies. He ran the business he founded until 1977, when his son, William I. Morton, who had headed the New York office, took charge. His work life was far from over, however. He devoted his retirement years to charitable work and writing. He lived until June 2004, dying at the age of 94 in Vero Beach, Florida, where he had moved three years earlier after living 70 years in Washington.
Under William Morton, Jack Morton Productions continued to grow and adapt to the times. By the mid-1980s, when it was doing about $25 million in annual business, the company was able to produce an industrial show from start to finish, designing and running computer-guided audiovisual spectaculars. It also turned corporate executives into film stars, within their own universes at least. In many respects, during the 1980s Jack Morton Productions evolved into a hybrid: a combination production studio, public relations firm, and advertising agency, focusing on internal corporate marketing communications.
However the niche was described, Jack Morton Productions faced increasing competition as the 1990s dawned. A recession made the field even more competitive as companies across numerous fields consolidated or downsized, and the days of making a statement by spending vast amounts of money on a frivolous industrial show were over. The so-called industrials remained important, but rather than serving as a diversion to entertain or raise morale, they were expected to serve more practical purposes, to address actual problems facing the company through entertainment. If executives needed to be more aggressive salespeople, for example, that message was reinforced in entertaining presentations.
Consolidation was also taking place among the companies involved in the industrial productions field in the 1990s, although Jack Morton Productions preferred to call itself an “experiential marketer” and changed its name to Jack Morton Company. It acquired Boston’s Rossin Larson Meeting Producers at the start of the decade and later added an Atlanta production company, O’Connor-Burnham Productions. By the mid-1990s, however, Jack Morton was trailing well behind a younger rival, Caribiner International, which was about six times its size.
In 1998, William Morton deemed the time was right to join forces with a larger company, and he sold the business to Interpublic Group of Companies in a stock transaction that according to the Wall Street Journal was likely worth more than $50 million. At the time, Jack Morton was generating $100 million in annual revenues and maintained nine offices across the United States.
William Morton stayed on to run the company, which was tucked into Interpublic’s Allied Communications Group. The company could now offer better benefits to its 275 employees and leverage Interpublic’s assets to better serve the global needs of its clients. Moreover, the deep pockets of its corporate parent provided Jack Morton with a better chance at making acquisitions to fend off smaller rivals and help it to compete against Caribiner. A few months after joining Interpublic, Jack Morton expanded its interactive capabilities by acquiring ICONOS Inc., an interactive media developer based in Minneapolis.
- Jack Morton founds Jack Morton Enterprises.
- American Trucking Association contract leads to expanded business.
- Jack Morton succeeded as CEO by son William.
- Company bought by Interpublic Group of Companies.
- Name changed to Jack Morton Worldwide.
- William Morton retires.
- Beijing office opens.
CARIBINER ASSETS ACQUIRED: 2000
In the late 1990s Caribiner stumbled, making too many acquisitions too quickly while piling up a large amount of debt. In 2000 Jack Morton acquired about 40 percent of Caribiner’s assets, paying $90 million for its events and communications division, which included the staging of sales meetings, events, and exhibits. Caribiner focused on its audiovisual services business, changed its name to Audio Visual Services Corporation and moved its headquarters from New York City to Long Beach, California. In the meantime Jack Morton, again the undisputed leader in its field, conducted a brand audit to determine whether to adopt the Caribiner name or perhaps take on a new corporate identity. Later in 2000, however, it decided to recast itself as Jack Morton Worldwide.
William Morton retired in 2003 after more than a quarter-century of leading the company his father founded and taking it to even greater heights. Chief operating officer Josh McCall, who had been with the company since 1984, succeeded him as chief executive and continued to expand the company’s global footprint. In 2004 the company produced the opening ceremonies at the Athens Summer Olympics, becoming the first nonlocal producer of the ceremonies in Olympic history. Jack Morton also began to expand beyond North America and Europe, in 2006 opening a office in Beijing, China, followed a year later by a branch in Shanghai.
Jack Morton Latino.
CoActive Marketing Group, Inc.; Pierce Promotions & Event Management; WPP Group USA Inc.
Adams, Michael, “Jack Be Nimble,” Successful Meetings, December 1995, p. 51.
Beatty, Sally, “Interpublic Acquires Jack Morton, Entering Corporate-Event Arena,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 1998, p. 1.
“Company Meetings Not What They Used to Be,” New York Times, September 3, 1985.
Ives, Nat, “Irvin Morton, 94; Brought Stars to Corporations’ Conventions,” New York Times, July 1, 2004, p. C14.
Morton, Jack, The Jack Morton (Who’s He?) Story, New York: Vantage Press, 1985, 241 p.
Sanders, Lisa, “Morton, Exec Who Pioneered Corporate Entertaining, Dies,” Advertising Age, July 5, 2004, p. 8.
Tucker, Carl, “There’s No Show Like the Business Show,” New York Times, August 3, 1975.
Warner, Judy, “IPG Purchases Events Planning Firm,” Adweek, April 20, 1998, p. 2.