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The Whole Brain Group moves to bigger office in Ann Arbor

The Whole Brain Group found a new home in Ann Arbor this summer.

The digital marketing firm moved from Tree Town's downtown to a new office near Briarwood Mall in May. The new space measures out to just under 5,000 square feet, which is double the size of its previous office.

"We were sitting on top of each other," says Marisa Smith, head brainiac at the The Whole Brain Group. "People were doing desk sharing or working from home. Our creative director was moving here from California so we needed a place to put everyone."

The 12-year-old company started off building websites and evolved into a full-service digital marketing firm. Among its offerings are consulting on inbound marketing and sales lead generation. Many of its new customers are gazelle firms that are growing fast. Smith has noticed they are looking for a more comprehensive help when they contract with The Whole Brain Group.

"I saw that these business owners not only needed marketing advice but business advice," Smith says. "We wanted to offer both things so we could be a one-stop shop."

And it's worked out for The Whole Brain Group so far. It's revenue is up 40 percent, allowing it to cross the $1 million threshold over the last year. It has also hired four people, expanding its staff to 13 employees.

Source: Marisa Smith, head brainiac at the The Whole Brain Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Friends launch video production firm, The Right Brothers

A couple of friends recently launched a video production firm out of a Detroit neighborhood just beyond Hamtramck’s northern border.

Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller started The Right Brothers in April by helping produce music videos for local artists. The two-person operation now does everything commercial work to informational videos.

"We decided we had to move forward and do bigger things," Miller says. "We kept the momentum and moved forward."

Miller and Townsley met in Ferndale when Miller moved next door to Townsley in 2004. The two became fast friends and ended up sharing a passion for video work. Since launching The Right Brothers, they have created seven music videos and expanded into other work, such as short videos for Signal Return Press and another that appeared recently in Model D.

"We definitely want to keep supporting local artists we believe in," Townsley says.

Source: Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller, co-owners of The Right Brothers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Linkies turns social media conversations into a startup

A new startup based in downtown Detroit is making a name for itself.

Linkies made its debut at a recent Lion’s football game, collecting social media conversations about the event for a national audience. The startup’s platform works as a social media aggregator, capturing hashtags across major social networks. It organizes and displays them so the user (usually a major organization) can show off the social media conversations.

"It's all hashtag centric," says Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies.

Linkies roots can be traced back to the campaign to bring the X Games to Detroit. Priest and his team were also trying to create their own social network, an effort that petered out. The X Games Detroit initiative gave them the inspiration to try a new way to capture public support through social media.

"It kickstarted us to make our own platform," Priest says.

Linkies launched just seven months later. Today, Priest and his team of three people are building their startup from the LCE Labs incubator, which is run from the Lowe Campbell Ewald headquarters at Ford Field. Linkies is the incubator’s first startup tenant and Priest expects to stay at the space at least through the end of the year.

"Hopefully that will be extended," Priest says.

Source: Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies
Writer: Jon Zemke

State Champs Sports Network adds 12 new hires

State Champs Sports Network has come a long way in its first 10 years.

The Southfield-based company got its start when Lou Bitonti was working at Chrysler managing the Jeep brand. Shortly after he left he started the high-school sports-centric broadcast company as a way to highlight Michigan’s emerging highlights.

"I wanted a show that focuses on all of the sports," Bitonti says. "The kid that runs cross country or does swimming does as much as the kids that play football or basketball."

State Champs Sports Network broadcasts local sports and feature TV shows, series, programming, and radio shows. Among its offerings are the State Champs! High School Sports Show, a weekly, half-hour TV program providing a comprehensive look at the athletic events, lives and accomplishments of Michigan’s high school athletes.

Starting last month, State Champs Sports Network launched a radio program, called High School Football Report, that airs weekly on CBS Detroit’s WXYT-AM 1270 from 9 to 11 a.m. each Saturday. The company also expanded its audience when its four-time Emmy-award-winning High School Sports Show! began airing on FOX Sports Detroit each Sunday from 9 to 9:30 a.m. It is also debuting a new television program called Extra Point Football Show! on WXYZ-TV Channel 7. It will air weekly each Sunday during the area’s high school football season for 10 weeks.

"We just started growing and we have a lot of shows," Bitonti says.

All of this new programing has prompted a hiring spree at State Champs Sports Network. The company has hired a dozen people over the last year. It now has 14 full-time employees and another 15-20 independent contractors.

"We're spreading the word out there," Bitonti says. "We're trying to keep this on a positive note. There are a lot of positive things happening in Michigan."

Source: Lou Bitonti, founder of State Champs Sports Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

HookLogic looking to hire 25 in downtown Ann Arbor

Walk into the Ann Arbor office of HookLogic and chances are you'll see a lot of people. Walk in there a short time later and chances are you will see even more people.

The tech firm has been steadily hiring since it moved into the old Leopold Brothers Brewery on South Main Street two years ago. The company currently has 55 of its 125 employees in Ann Arbor. It also hosted another 10 summer interns earlier this year. Those numbers are expected to grow over the next year.

"We're in the middle of hiring," says Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic. "We're adding about 35 people worldwide."

Most of those new hires are destined for Ann Arbor. The company has hired 10 people (mostly software professionals) over the last year and it looking to hire another 25 in Ann Arbor right now. When those positions are full the company will have filled out a majority of its space in the Ann Arbor office, but still have a significant amount of room to grow into.

"Ann Arbor continues to be our primary technology product office," Opdyke says. "It has just grown since we opened it."
 
HookLogic specializes in paid product listings on commerce sites. It partners with large retailers, online travel agencies, and automotive companies to give marketers direct access to bottom-of-funnel shoppers, as well as a clear view into resulting sales attribution. It works with a number of big companies, including Expedia and Target, along with a number of automotive companies. Opdyke sums up his company’s goal for future growth in one word.

"Bigger," Opdyke says. "We're doing a lot to grow our relationships. We work with a lot of auto manufacturers like Chrysler. We want to grow those relationships."

Source: Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic
Writer Jon Zemke

Moncur branding agency opens new offices in Miami, Austin

Moncur is rebranding and expanding its presence across the U.S.

The Southfield-based branding agency has been known as Moncur Associates for its 22 years until it dropped the latter part of its name this month. Moncur is also opening satellite offices in Miami and Austin.

"There is a lot of stability that comes with geographic expansion and a lot of growth opportunity," says David Moncur, principal of Moncur. "By my estimation Austin is the next Silicon Valley."

Moncur handles the digital and social media branding for the likes of Lear, Layne, Discovery Channel, the University of Michigan, Art Van, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s revenue is up 50 percent over the last year and the company is on track to do it again.

The company has hired six people over the last year, primarily in creative and technical positions. Moncur currently has a staff of 27 employees and one intern. It also has four open positions for technical and creative staffers, including a director of digital marketing.

Moncur is looking to keep going by focusing on customers in the Metro Detroit, Miami and Austin markets over the next year. However, Moncur expects most of the growth to take place at its Southfield headquarters.

"That has never happened to us in our company’s history," Moncur says. "It's an exciting ride."

Source: David Moncur, principal of Moncur
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cosmo Branding and Marketing launches out of Pony Ride

Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson launched Cosmo Branding and Marketing last fall to provide services to small businesses starting up in Detroit.

Today, the Corktown-based company -- it calls Pony Ride home -- has established itself as a firm that helps startups and entrepreneurs tell their stories.

"We saw the need was there for branding for startups, especially in downtown Detroit," Watson says.

Both Morman and Watson have backgrounds in creative and entrepreneurial ventures. They have been able to help their clients with everything from product designs to guerilla marketing to event planning. The whole idea is to help businesses build better brands by executing well-thought-out marketing strategies. Among its clients are Caledonia Capital Partners and Infinite Mile.

"We like to work with a variety of different businesses," Morman says. "It allows us to diversify and sharpen our skills."

Cosmo Branding and Marketing currently is composed of Watson and Morman, two independent contractors, and an intern. The team is now looking to take on clients outside of Michigan during its second year.

Source: Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson, co-founders of Cosmo Branding and Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

RBD Creative moves to larger office in Plymouth

For RBD Creative’s first seven years, it called the carriage house of one of Detroit's oldest structures home. Today the company has matured to a traditional office in a new home in the suburbs.

The marketing company made the move to Plymouth in March. The new home puts it closer to core clients, such as the University of Michigan and Genesis Genetics, which is also based in Plymouth.

"That's part of the reason we moved to Plymouth," says Dorothy Twinney, president & owner of RBD Creative.

Also necessitating the move is RBD Creative's growth making it into a different and bigger company. When it launched it had three people. Today it has a staff of a dozen employees and the occasional intern after making two hires over the last year. The new office in Plymouth is much bigger, measuring out to 2,000 square feet. It also has a conference room.

"Now we have a much bigger conference area," Twinney says.

RBD Creative is looking to add more clients in the food and academic sectors both this year and next.

"For whatever reason these two areas seem to be our thing," Twinney says.

Source: Dorothy Twinney, president & owner of RBD Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coupon Wallet racks up customers as it emerges from Beta stage

Lots of software startups make it into Beta, one of the early stages where they get to test out their new idea in the real world. Few make it out.

Coupon Wallet appears to be one of those making it out of Beta and into the world of paying customers. The Sterling Heights-based startup that calls the Macomb-OU INCubator home converted its first users (a couple of bars) into customers earlier this summer.

"We have a couple other businesses in the pilot we’re trying to convert into customers as well," says Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet.

Coupon Wallet’s software helps small businesses create digital coupons that in turn aid them in reaching a larger audience. The technology includes managed marketing services and point-of-sale integration. The firm is also looking to marry digital coupons and data analytics as part of its service package.

"Hopefully that will give the customer a rounded offering," Papa says.

Coupon Wallet was spun out of PocketCents Network a year ago. It currently has a team of four employees and two interns.

Source: Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet
Writer: Jon Zemke

Siren PR adds to staff as revenue more than doubles

Every year is a growth year at Siren PR, or at least so far for the young public relations firm.

The Royal Oak-based company launched a little more than two years ago handling work for Metro Detroit non-profits, such as OLHSA. The company has gone from revenues of $75,000 in 2012 to nearly $200,000 last year. It is on pace to easily surpass $200,000 in revenue this year.

"We have grown every month since we started," says Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR.

That has meant the need for more woman power. The two co-founders hired their first employee last September. That person took another job this month but not before Siren PR made another hire. The company probably isn't done adding to its head count this year.

"We will probably be expanding to four in the near future," Walenga says.

Siren PR has made its mark so far taking on clients with a social purpose, or as Walenga put it, "A mission they can believe in." For OLHSA that’s helping local people find the help and social services they need to succeed. A recent addition is Detroit Bikes, which is working to bring manufacturing back to Detroit by becoming the largest bicycle manufacturer in the U.S.

"I'd love to be representing more for-profit companies that have a community purpose," Walenga says.

Source: Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

Andy Ross Design fills out workload in Ann Arbor

Andy Ross and his wife, Amanda Ross, launched their own design firm a couple of years ago called Stunning Creative. The move was prompted by Amanda Ross' job loss and turned into an opportunity for the Ann Arbor couple to create their own business.

That lasted for a year or two until Amanda landed a new job. That left Andy with a company that just didn’t quite fit right anymore. So he started a new one this year called Andy Ross Design.

"I've been pretty busy," Andy Ross says. "I have done some work for some larger local clients like Aysling.  It's a newer client."

The design company has also been taking on more advertising agency work, including working with Lowe Campbell Ewald on its Cadillac account. Andy Ross says he has doubled his workload in the last year as more and more marketing firm take on an increased workload.

"A lot of it is I have put more effort into marketing the company," Andy Ross says. "Advertising budges have increased over the last year."

Source: Andy Ross, owner of Andy Ross Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

Amplifinity keeps hiring, closes Series B, looks for bigger home

Amplifinity is gunning for the growth trifecta in downtown Ann Arbor this year. The tech startup has been steadily hiring over the last year, is close to locking down a multi-million-dollar round of venture capital investment, and is starting to look at options for a bigger headquarters.

"The size of our organization could easily double in the next year," says Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity.

The 6-year-old company's bread and butter is software that generates Internet referrals through social media called Advocacy Management Platform. The product allows people to advocate for brands by referring new prospects, endorsing products, and amplifying marketing messages.

Amplifinity has hired 12 people over the last year, including a former intern. The firm now has a staff of 37 employees and is looking to hire half a dozen more people, including software developers and client services professionals.

"We're looking for people who are really good at working with other people," Jacobson says.

Amplifinity is in the final stages of securing a Series B round of investment. Jacobson declined to say how much the round would amount to besides saying its worth several million dollars. Amplifinity raised a $3.5 million Series A in 2012.

"We have the capital to grow," Jacobson says. "We are acquiring new customers very rapidly."

The recent growth is also pushing Amplifinity toward the capacity of its office space in Ann Arbor. The firm is starting to explore options for newer and bigger offices in a broad range of locations, but Jacobson says the firm’s leadership has a preference on where it wants to end up.

"We really love Ann Arbor because it’s a wonderful, creative town," Jacobson says. "It has really smart people. It allows us to grow a company here as well as our competitors, which are primarily in Silicon Valley."

Source: Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity
Writer: Jon Zemke

EAFocus turns 15 years old, doubles staff

Barbara Fornasiero started EAFocus, a public relations and marketing company, to help take more control of her life. The mother of a young family wanted to stay professionally active and focus on helping raise her young children. Becoming her own boss seemed like a good option to make that happen.

"I wanted the freedom to set my own schedule and pursue the clients that interested me," Fornasiero says.

That was 15 years ago. Today the Rochester-based company has recently hired its first employee and is growing its client list. EAFocus got its start serving professional companies, like consulting and law firms. It now does work for local school districts and municipalities, and a growing variety of clients.

Fornasiero hired Sara Przybylski nearly a year ago. Przybylski had worked as a social media coordinator for an automotive supplier before coming on as a public relations consultant at EAFocus.

"I wanted to expand the business and have a regular schedule," Fornasiero says. "I wanted to grow the business and still be able to take some time off."

Source: Barbara Fornasiero, owner & principal of EAFocus
Writer: Jon Zemke

Beyond Startup expands with second stage marketing work

Catherine Juon launched Beyond Startup with the idea of helping growing businesses make the leap to second stage. Now she is launching a second part of that company focused on second stage marketing using her own name, CatherineJuon.com, as the URL.

"I get the phone call when people have an online marketing problem, and it often turns out to be an second stage thing," Juon says. "The whole marketing SEO thing turns out to be the icing on the cake."

Juon helped grow online marketing firm Pure Visibility in downtown Ann Arbor before striking out on her own with Beyond Startup two years ago. The consulting firm helps its clients grow out of small business mode and into rapidly expanding firms.

Much of her work has also become helping those firms with market discovery and customer discovery. That has transformed into the creation of its own line of business.

"The second stage consulting is really its own thing," Juon says.

Juon is now working with Bud Gibson, a profession at Eastern Michigan University who created the search marketing program at the university. The pair are working on creating a sequence of workshops on solving company sales problems in the digital age.

"Our partnership is gradually growing," Juon says.

Source: Catherine Juon, founder of Beyond Startup
Writer: Jon Zemke

Phire Group hires 3 on slow and steady growth trajectory

Slow and steady doesn't just win the race. It also builds a successful company. That's Jim Hume's opinion.

The principal of Phire Group preaches deliberate and modest growth as the smart way to grow a company. It's been the secret sauce for his own full-service marketing firm.

"We have been fortunate to grow at a consistent, steady pace," Hume says. "That's unusual for marketing firms that are usually boom or bust."

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company takes a longterm approach with its clients and avoids churn and burn work. Treating its long-term clients well produces more referral work and increased workload with existing clients. For instance, it started doing project work with MASCO Cabinetry and is now its agency of record for some of its brands.

"That growth has been slow and steady over the years," Hume says.

That enabled Phire Group to hire three people over the last year, including positions in public relations, web development and strategy. It now has a staff of 20 employees and one intern. Hume plans to add a handful more people over the next year. All of it part of the company’s slow and steady growth plan.

Source: Jim Hume, principal of Phire Group
Writer: Jon Zemke
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