TJ Abrams Joins Exos As CMO As Fitness Company Readies For Consumer Push In 2021

After rising through the ranks at Coca-Cola and InterContinental Hotels, TJ Abrams has now accepted his first role as chief marketing officer.

Abrams is the new CMO of Exos, where he’ll be tasked with marketing the fitness company—long known for its work with elite athletes and corporate clients—as it navigates both the Covid-19 era of exercise while also expanding beyond its current customers to a broader consumer market in 2021. He’ll begin later this month and report to Exos CEO Sarah Robb O’Hagan, the former president of Equinox and former CEO of Flywheel Sports. 

“Sarah will tell you often that Exos swag is known throughout many locker rooms around the country,” he says. “But the opportunity is to figure out how you talk about what so many people love in elite locker rooms and move it to the masses.”

Abrams, who was named to the inaugural Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2013, has led a variety of notable campaigns over the past decade. Along with relaunching Coke Zero in Black Can in 2008 and 2009 that included an national football campaigns, he also led Coca-Cola’s 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign for North America. And at IHG, he helped modernize Holiday Inn globally across 80 countries while introducing a new brand design and logo. And last year, he developed and launched IHG’s largest marketing campaign in a decade which included the “We’re There” campaign that unified Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.

Along with hiring Abrams, Exos is bringing on Yvette Pasqua as the company’s new chief technology officer. Pasqua, who was previously the Vice President of engineering at Haven, also spent several years as the CTO of Meetup as well as stints in advertising at the agencies AKQA and Possible. 

The two c-suite additions join Exos at a time of growth and disruption for the fitness sector. While the company says it’s grown 185% over the past five years, the core business prior to the Covid-19 pandemic was offering training to corporate clients and athletes in gyms. However, in the past six months, the company has pivoted to digital offerings through streaming workouts and webinars and remote coaching. Later this year, the company will roll out even more options online and plans to increase marketing spend as part of a broader consumer push next year. 

According to research conducted by Exos, 63% of respondents said health and fitness were “more important” than prior to the pandemic. However, 40% said their lack of goals have impacted their desire to train while two-thirds said they miss the physical and emotional connection of friends. The company also found that more than half of respondents have plans to balance at-home and in-person workouts as gyms begin to open up around then country. The research is helping inform Exos’s strategy for engaging with a broader consumer base even as it competes with the likes of competitors ranging from gyms like Equinox, a range of equipment companies such as Peloton, Tonal, and Mirror and digital trainer startups such as Future. 

O’Hagan says Abrams’s time spent at IHG is beneficial because hospitality brands are often closer to the consumer than some other types of products and services. That, she says, will be useful in understanding both Exos’s current customers as well as the broader base it hopes to reach next year. O’Hagan, who was at one time the CMO of Gatorade, perhaps knows more about marketing than some CEOs having spent time in the space. That shared understanding of marketing that could be beneficial for collaborating in the c-suite while also mitigating the usual tension that often comes between a CEO’s demands and a CMO’s remit. (O’Hagan also knows what the risks of marketing can be, having lived through the ill-fated relaunch of Gatorade as “G” before also leading the brand’s turnaround.”)

“I have deeply kind of understood, as a marketer, the core experiences that are so critical for these brands that really succeed in fitness and performance,” O’Hagan says. “It comes down to obviously understanding consumers at a deep level, but I do believe that people who have worked in hospitality just generally have a much closer-to-the-consumer, closer-to-employees mentality. So I know that was something I was looking for, because it would be something that TJ would be able to bring to us as opposed to us having to educate a CMO on the product side that has a different toolset.”

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