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Carbon Media Group hires 30, expands outdoor-related digital content focus

Carbon Media Group is not trying to keep its growth slow and steady. The digital media firm is in the midst of taking a couple of big steps forward.

The Bingham Farms-based company has hired 30 people since the beginning of 2013, more than doubling its staff to 56 employees. It is looking to add some interns this summer. Many of the new jobs included positions in software development, account management, business development, sales, content writing and editing.

"We're getting ready for a big growth year in 2014," says Hyaat Chaudhary, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

For most of its first seven years, Carbon Media Group focused on digital advertising. Think banner ads, aimed at outdoors enthusiasts. It has since expanded its scope to include agriculture and action sports, like snowboarding or rock climbing. It is now working to become the largest digital content producer for the outdoor sporting world.

"It's really a growth in the breadth of the business," Chaudhary says.

Carbon Media Group now helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It also has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors.

That expansion has allowed Carbon Media Group to grow its revenue by 33 percent in 2013. It is on track to hit its goal of 60-percent revenue growth this year, an expansion that should allow the firm to continuing hiring at a brisk pace.

Source: Hyaat Chaudhary, CEO of Carbon Media Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Motor City Muckraker carves out niche in Detroit media landscape

These times are strange ones for news organizations. The type of days where venture-backed online news aggregators cut back and passion-play news sites expand. Motor City Muckraker is a member of the latter.

What started as a news blog by former Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling two years ago this summer is now an online news site that employs Neavling and his girlfriend, Abigail Shah, and gives work to six contributors that write about Detroit all day everyday.

"I write between 2-4 stories a day," Neavling says. "We just started paying contributors a month ago."

Motor City Muckraker
has made a name for itself breaking big stories in a highly competitive news market, going toe-to-toe with some big media players and winning more than anyone expected. Among its editorial highlights is breaking the story about Grosse Pointe Park Police Department officers making racially charged videos last year. That work led to an investigation of the department and the officers implicate in the incident ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

Motor City Muckraker
is produced from Neavling and Shah's apartment in Midtown, employing lean-startup techniques out of necessity that comes with budget constraints. Neavling and Shah provided the little startup capital to get the website up and going while Neavling freelanced for the likes of Reuters and Tickle The Wire. Motor City Muckraker now harvests revenue from Adsense, advertising from local businesses, and crowdfunding campaigns. It recently worked to sell 50 t-shirts with the website's logo on them. They sold 65 and raised $1,300.

"We're using that money as seed money for freelance work," Neavling says. "We want a broad range of stories in different fields."

It's part of Neavling and Shah's vision to turn Motor City Muckracker into something more than just Neavling with a blog. They want Motor City Muckracker to become a central spot for conversations about the city of Detroit and where it is going.

"We want to get to know the city and understand the city," Neavling says.

Source: Steve Neavling, co-founder of Motor City Muckraker
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hile Creative creates more work, jobs with biz model pivot

Hile Creative made a name for itself as Hile Design up until about nine months ago. That was when the Ann Arbor-based company pivoted its business plan away from project-oriented work and more toward branding, giving itself a new name in the process.

"Now we're more geared toward helping companies establish their brand," says Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative. "That was a good move for us."

The 30-year-old company has hired three people in the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen employees. It is looking at adding interns this summer.

The extra staff has allowed Hile Creative to capitalize on its growth. The firm has watched its animation work spike recently. Hile Creative handles all of its animation work internally so it means more and more work for the Ann Arbor-based creative agency.

"We're becoming increasingly visual as a people," Hile says. "If you can come up with creative concepts visually people will get it."

Source: Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

XanEdu aims to hire 50 in Ann Arbor, invest $1M

XanEdu is consolidating its operations in Michigan and Kentucky into its Ann Arbor facility, a move that is expected to bring another 50 hires in the next five years.

"Ann Arbor is such a great place to live and work," says Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu. "With the University of Michigan in our backyard we have great access to top talent."

XanEdu got its start as a traditionally publishing company in 1999 making educational materials for schools, such as course packs for colleges. It has expanded into digital realm in recent years, bringing those educational materials to mobvile devices, such as iPads, with an app. It currently employs 30 people in Ann Arbor.

XanEdu, with help from Ann Arbor SPARK, is investing $1 million toward expanding its operations in Ann Arbor. The new hires will be primarily in management, sales and IT positions. Michalek expects the new jobs will be created steadily over the next five years as the company grows.

"We are trying to expand our technology operations into new markets," Michalek says.

Source: Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu
Writer: Jon Zemke

Click Click Car creates marketing software for auto leasing

The techies behind Click Click Car think they have built a better software platform to make leasing a new car as simple as a few taps on a computer and delivery to the customer’s home.

The East English Village-based startup, formerly uNetworked, is in the final stages of developing an online marketing platform for automotive dealers. The idea is to streamline the automotive leasing process so online consumers can pick the vehicle they want and get the best price as quickly as possible.

"It allows a potential car lease to shop for a car, find the car they like and get the lease price accurate to the penny," says Terry Bean, chief networking officer at Click Click Car. "It gives them all the forms then need. We will bring the car to them for a test drive or deliver it if they intend to lease it."

Click Click Car and its team of five people, and the occasional intern, are putting the finishing touches on the platform and expect to launch it before the end of the month. They are currently working with an automotive dealership that carries the Buick, GMC, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. Bean declined to name the dealership beyond saying its based on the east side until after the software launches.

Click Click Car is also the software firm behind the 313DLove event earlier this month at Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History. The event focused on the positive buzz the Motor City generates online, highlighting it with the #313DLove hashtag.

"We're trying to bring that lovefest from online to the real world," Bean says

Source: Terry Bean, chief networking officer at Click Click Car
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ghostly International leverages partnerships for growth

Ghostly International, the ambient music label, has taken advantage of its growth opportunities this year through a number of partnerships with other creative-based firms.

The Ann Arbor-based firm, it calls the Tech Brewery home, has hired one full-time employee and another part-timer over the last year. It currently has a staff of 11 employees across the company’s five divisions and in other cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles.

Driving the growth for the firm has been partnerships on a variety of projects. For instance, Ghostly International teamed up with Warby Parker to create a Ghostly International brand of sunglasses. You can check out a video about the partnership here.

Ghostly International is also partnering with Honeyslug Games to create the soundtrack for the Hohokum video game for PlayStation. The team at Honeyslug Games approached Ghostly International with a music playlist in mind for the video game and it turned out to be all Ghostly International songs.

"We will have an entire soundtrack for that surrounding the release," says Jeremy Peters, director of creative licensing & business affairs for Ghostly Songs, a division of Ghostly International. "They have been awesome to work with."

Ghostly International is also still releasing electronic music. It is release the new album for Tyco, Awake, this week. You can more information on the new album here, including its first single Spectre.

Source: Jeremy Peters, director of creative licensing & business affairs for Ghostly International
Writer: Jon Zemke

North Coast Technology Investors start off year with big exit

One of Ann Arbor's venture capital staples officially scored a big exit early this year, and chances are you haven't heard about it.

NTT Communications
, a Tokyo-based multinational corporation, acquired Denver-based Virtela Technology Services for $525 million. The deal was finalized in January, and Ann Arbor-based North Coast Technology Investors was one of the early investors in Virtela Technology Services.

"These don't happen everyday," says Hugo Braun, partner with North Coast Technology Investors. "We're pretty excited about it."

The 15-year-old venture capital firm is currently in the midst of deploying its third investment fund worth $30 million. North Coast Technology Investors' team of three people have made nine investments from the fund and recorded two exits. The other exit was Ford's acquisition of Ferndale-based Livio last fall.

"We're still in investment mode," Braun says. "We have half of our money left in our fund. Some of it is committed to other investments but we think we will make a few more this year."

One of its most recent investments is in VNN, formerly Varsity News Network, which recently raised a $3 million Series A round. The Grand Rapids-based startup is pushing forward a collaborative effort between traditional and community sports journalists to provide media coverage for every high school sport. It took first place and $500,000 in seed capital in last fall’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Source: Hugo Braun, partner with North Coast Technology Investors
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Michigan First Credit Union aims to add 17 jobs

Michigan First Credit Union is in the process of hiring another 17 people right now, including a new spokester for its Young & Free Michigan program.

The Lathrup Village-based credit union currently employs 247 people across six stand-alone branches, plus three more in Meijer stores. It is replacing a branch on Gratiot Avenue, which is expected to open this fall. Michigan First Credit Union has hired 17 people over the last year. Its new positions range from IT professionals to branch operations. For information on those jobs, click here.

Among the new positions is the credit union’s spokester job for its Young & Free Michigan program. The 3-year-old program employs one college student for a year, making the person the credit union’s spokester. The spokester engages local college students through social media, community events, blog posts and online videos. The idea is to encourage smart financial behavior and help attract more young people to the credit union.

"The year goes by so fast," says Vicky Goldwater, young & free Michigan spokester for Michigan First Credit Union. She worked as a waitress and studied communications at Macomb Community College before taking the position. "The experience was awesome."

Michigan First Credit Union is taking applications for this year's spokester. The position comes with paid gas and insurance. Applicants are expected to make a video when applying. More info can be found here.

"Have fun with the video," Goldwater says. "Be yourself."

Michigan First Credit Union has about 94,300 members in Michigan, which is up more than 4,000 since the beginning of 2013. It has added $30 million in assets in the last year, totaling $674 million.

Source: Vicky Goldwater, young & free Michigan spokester for Michigan First Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

Carcode SMS helps create conversation at car dealerships

A new tech startup is helping automotive dealerships spark more conversations with potential customers.

Carcode SMS has come up with a website plugin that allows consumers to text automotive dealership staff and inquire about a specific car. The software assigns local cell phone numbers to dealerships so mobile shoppers can text them and provides the dealership with an app that allows staff to respond and manage conversations in a compliant environment.

"We can keep track of all of the text conversations with that app," says Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS.

Carcode SMS also has a feature enabling the consumer to end the conversation whenever he or she wants to and not have to worry about follow-ups from salesmen. The Ann Arbor-based startup that calls Tech Brewery home recently won the 2014 Edmund Hackomotive contest last month.

The three-person Carcode SMS team has completed the initial development of the software and is testing it out at an automotive dealership. "We are currently talking to other dealerships," Schwartz says.

Source: Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS
Writer: Jon Zemke

PR firm Finn Partners opens office in downtown Detroit

Public relations firm Finn Partners is opening an office in downtown Detroit, a move that will bring a handful of new jobs to the Motor City’s Central Business District.

Finn Partners will take office space in 1528 Woodward, just south of Grand Circus Park. The recently renovated office building, which is part of the M@dison Block, is also home to Bizdom. Finn Partners has three employees there and is in the process of adding more.

"We have a couple more we will be hiring in the next few months so it will be five or six people," Richard Funess, senior managing partner with Finn Partners. He adds those jobs will be mid-level management that focus on public relations and social media.

The New York City-based firm specializes in PR and digital communications, specifically consumer and technology marketing, social media, global issues and corporate affairs/social responsibility, travel and economic development, education and arts and cultural communications. It has 300 employees around the world at eight other offices. It counts Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as one of its clients in Metro Detroit.

"We'd like to add more staff as we grow," says Peter Finn, founding partner with Finn Partners. "That is our goal."

Source: Peter Finn, founding partner with Finn Partners, and Richard Funess, senior managing partner with Finn Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

Orange Egg Advertising works on PBS series, adds 4 new jobs

Orange Egg Advertising has been adding more clients and members to its team over the last year.

The Ann Arbor-based firm and its sister company, Hadrout in Ferndale, has grown by 25% and added four new positions, expanding its staff to half a dozen people.

"We keep adding interesting projects," says Amy Grambeau, director of Orange Egg Advertising.

Among those projects is the PBS station's series, Start Up. Orange Egg Advertising helped produce the first season that profiled entrepreneurs. It is now working on the second season for the show.

"There are some cool things coming out of southeast Michigan," Grambeau says.

Grambeau expects Orange Egg Advertising to expand in a similar fashion in 2014, powered by word-of-mouth referrals. "We just keep doing a good job for our clients," Grambeau says. "We keep on the cutting edge of technology for our clients."

Source: Amy Grambeau, director of Orange Egg Advertising
Writer: Jon Zemke

Highway Media transitions to more web video work

Video production has made a dramatic change in recent years and Highway Media has been there to reap some of those rewards.

The Canton-based video-production firm has enjoyed a 10-percent bump in its revenue over the last two years as it transitions from doing video work for DVDs to online videos. Mark Salloum, producer/director for Highway Media points out that online videos play a significant role in helping websites reach the top of Internet searches and keeping surfers engaged for longer.

"The power of video has become the most impactful medium in the world," Salloum says.

Most of Highway Media’s clients fall into two categories, Salloum explains. A lot of industrial shops are looking for short videos explaining what sets them apart. There are also many medical professionals in need of videos that explain the niche of their practices, such as fertilization clinics. He adds that they want a professional look that tells a compelling story.

"That's why they're hiring us," Salloum says.

The increase in business has allowed Highway Media to add two employees to its core team of 12. The firm is also planning to bring on an intern this spring. 

"We're projecting a dramatic growth, 30-40 percent, in the next two years," Salloum says.

Source: Mark Salloum, producer/director of Highway Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

Tanner Friedman PR firm grows on recurring client work

Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications is one of those companies that doesn't measure its success by the number of new clients it attracts, but by the clients it keeps in its fold.

The Farmington Hills-based public relations agency has enjoyed double-digit revenue growth over the last year thanks primarily to increased work from existing clients.

"That's where we prefer growth to come from." says Matt Friedman, partner at Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications. "We like new clients and are happy to add them. But it’s the best testament to our work and our growth when a client says, 'We want you to do more work for us.'"

The agency enjoyed a small spike in its crisis communications work in the fourth quarter of last year, but its bread and butter came down to three core industries: privately owned businesses, professional services and non-profits. Those three areas have allowed the firm to triple in size since its launch seven years ago.

"These are the types of clients that really need us," Friedman says. "We are closer to a need-to-have than a nice-to-have with them."

Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications has added another person to its staff, rounding it out to eight employees. The hire, a former intern, is an account coordinator. The firm also has six independent contractors and plans to bring on two interns this summer.

"We grow when it makes sense," Friedman says. "We want to add people when we have the work to justify it."

Source: Matt Friedman, partner at Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

Are You a Human debuts PlayThru for Video technology

Ever count down the seconds before you can click through the commercial preceding an online video? Are You a Human thinks it has an answer for this conundrum in the new spinoff of its CAPTCHA-killing technology it's launching this month, PlayThru for Video.

PlayThru for Video allows users to engage with a quick brand exercise, such as dragging a sold sign to a home in an ad for Quicken Loans. That action takes the user directly to the video, skipping the opening advertisement.

"From the advertiser's side you get real human interaction," says Reid Tatoris, co-founder of Are You a Human. "From a user's standpoint you get to see your video faster."

The 3-year-old startup got its start by replacing CAPTCHA, the squiggly letters used to authenticate human interaction, with a quick, simple computer game for users. The branded games help fight against software bots impersonating human users.

Are You a Human is now bringing the next generation of its technology to help make online users and advertisers happier. Initial testing of PlayThru for Video show users remember the brand just as much as those who watch the full ad, but feel 33 percent more favorably about the brand. Are You a Human is partnering with PopSugar, TubeMogul, and Complex Media for the launch of PlayThru for Video and its currently being used on more than 7,000 sites. Ford, Chevy, and Hasbro have used PlayThru for Video for advertising campaigns.

The downtown Detroit-based company, it calls the M@dison Building home and also opened a satellite office in New York City, has been working with advertisers for the last five months to establish the commercial viability of its products.

"It's all about generating repeat revenue from advertisers," Tatoris says. "We're looking to scale up to lots of advertisers instead of a handful."

Are You a Human currently employs eight people. It has hired three people over the last year for positions in software development, sales and marketing. It is also looking for one front-end developer.

The startup locked down six figures of seed capital from angel investors and Detroit Venture Partners in 2012. Tatoris says the company is looking to pursue a Series A round of venture capital later this year.

Source: Reid Tatoris, co-founder of Are You a Human
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lovio George expands in Midtown with 2 new hires

Lovio George Communications + Design added two rising stars to its ranks in Midtown.

The boutique communications and design agency hired one of its interns, Megan Ewend, and local public relations veteran James Canning. The 32-year-old firm now has a staff of 13 employees and 1-2 interns.

"We try to (hire interns)," says Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George Communications + Design. "It's been one of our traditions since the beginning because we immerse them in client work."

Canning has become a well-known face of numerous Detroit-centric institutions over the last decade. The Wayne State University graduate and native Detroiter got his start at Berg Muirhead and Associates in New Center. He went onto serve as a spokesman for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for four years before launching Canning Communications in 2008. He has served as the spokesman for Paxahau, Detroit Restaurant Week, M-1 Rail and Tour de Troit since then.

Lovio-George worked with Canning for years before deciding to pull the trigger on bringing him on as Lovio George Communications + Design’s director of public affairs.

"I kept saying we ought to make this connection more official," Lovio-George says. "We talked about it for years. ... I think he is a rising star. I really do."

Source: Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George Communications + Design
Writer: Jon Zemke
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