When Shawn Amos was in a pitch meeting with a big corporation recently, he started to explain his new service in which writers would create journalistic stories for the company’s website. But the chief marketing officer interrupted him midsentence.
“I’ve been waiting for our ad agency to come up with an idea like this for the last year,” the executive said, based on Amos’ recollections. “Where do I sign?”
Amos is chief executive of Westwood-based Freshwire, a new joint venture between public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard and GMR Marketing, both units of New York-based Omnicom Group. The company launched last month.
Companies that create content for brands are the current fad of the Internet economy, with new competitors starting each week. But Amos hopes to set his service above the crowd by hiring former journalists instead of ad copywriters. At launch, Freshwire had 10 full-time employees supplemented by more than 75 freelancers including editors, writers, TV news cameramen and designers.
“We are not PR people or advertising types, we are storytellers,” Amos said. “We look at everything with the question, ‘What is the story here?’ That’s different from traditional marketing.”
The company has signed two clients, but he declined to name them.
Freshwire is an outgrowth of a company Amos founded in 2009 called Amos Content Group, which provided episode recaps, cast biographies and trivia for shows on Fox’s website. It also produced show biz news segments for Dallas-based IndoorDirect, which operates a network of TV screens in Taco Bell and Carl’s Jr. restaurants.
Freshwire will be getting its clients from referrals by Fleishman-Hillard and GMR.
Ryan Peal, the new general manager of the L.A. office of Fleishman-Hillard, said PR and marketing firms are evolving to provide different services such as Freshwire. He looks forward to contributing to its success.
Gary Reynolds, chief executive of GMR Marketing in New Berlin, Wis., said companies need to feed a growing number of websites and social media outlets, but most large companies don’t have the expertise or organization to do it.
“Content must be hand-crafted,” he said. “And that’s how they do it at Freshwire. Although GMR and Fleishman-Hillard are in different lines of work, it’s a solution that delivers on both our needs and our clients’ needs.”
When Freshwire signs a client, Amos runs a series of meeting to decide a brand’s editorial agenda. One issue that comes up: Companies are used to talking up their brands, but to have relevance to a web audience, the content must do more than tout products.
Amos tries to identify topics where the interests of the consumer and the brand overlap.
After initial meetings, Freshwire develops a style manual, an editorial calendar and workflow chart to clarify who must give approval for new content. Then production begins much the same way as at a newspaper or magazine.
Most of Freshwire’s content is editorial, including daily stories for websites, Facebook pages or e-mail newsletters. For example, it might produce an informative article about how a company sources its raw materials and why that is changing. Or it could create a series of advice pieces that would incorporate a client’s products.
The company often augments its editorial output with video such as a product launch demonstration or a speech by an executive.
Freshwire charges a retainer between $10,000 and $50,000 a month, depending on the amount of content needed by a client. Extras, such as video reportage of an event, are billed on top of the retainer.
Gabriel Kahn, a professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with a focus on media economics, said Freshwire is a logical response to two trends: consumers spending more time online and advertisers who are frustrated with the diminishing returns of traditional TV advertising. But he’s not sure if Freshwire’s journalistic approach will really separate it from competitors.
“Every advertising agency will be doing this in the near future,” Kahn predicted. “It’s going to be a crowded space.”
Amos said a lot of his competitors are gimmicky technology firms trying to automate the process of content creation instead of performing hard work.
“They have a platform that allows you to type in keywords and find a writer for your blog, or scrape the Web and aggregate content on a subject,” he said. “But Freshwire is a decidedly human endeavor. Starting and sustaining conversations is better left to a custom-built team of real storytellers than to technology.”
Both Kahn and Amos believe traditional journalism will survive online, but Amos thinks the lines between advertising, public relations and journalism will blur, giving rise to new types of content.
“There will always be a need for compelling content and people who can create it, whether it’s for a cable TV channel or a food company,” he said.
A client recently showed Amos a picture on the company’s Facebook page of a girl wearing a dress made from wrappers of the company’s product. But there was no information about the girl’s name, where she lived, if she gave permission to use the photo or why she made the dress.
“No one was thinking how to make a story from it,” he said. “It’s part of a trend where all companies find themselves having to sustain 24-7 conversations online, and the sheer scope of the work makes it unmanageable in-house.”
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