HB Acquires Fresh Ground
Fresh talent. Fresh capabilities.
A stronger engine helping clients build their own media companies.
What do you see in the Fresh Ground team?
Mark O’Toole, Managing Director, PR & Content Marketing
What’s the impact on the agency?
Nicolas Boillot, CEO
What about the culture?
Kevin Hart, President & Creative Director
What’s happening in PR?
Chuck Tanowitz, VP, Public Relations & Editorial Content
What’s Chuck like?
Dawn Sullivan, VP, Public Relations
What do you see in the HB team?
Todd Van Hoosear, VP, Public Relations & Stakeholder Engagement
Freshen up on the acquisition
Traditional public relations is dead
You must become your own media company
HB adds to its capabilities and talent pool
Newton, Mass. – September 12, 2013 – Traditional public relations is dead; businesses need a new PR model that integrates the right messages with the right media in the right channels, essentially becoming media companies for their prospects and customers. To meet this challenge, HB Agency, an integrated marketing and public relations firm, has acquired Fresh Ground, a public relations and social media agency, to evolve an approach to PR that delivers on the promises of both inbound and outbound communications. Fresh Ground’s approach to PR was built upon a beyond-the-hits strategy, defining story lifecycle from conception to placement to social sharing. Adding Fresh Ground’s process to HB’s storytelling capabilities creates a practice ready to change how PR is done and help clients become the media companies they need to be to drive business results.
“We believe the future of PR is in building media companies,” said Chuck Tanowitz, Fresh Ground co-founder and vice president of editorial content at HB. “There’s a widening gap in businesses’ ability to connect with their audiences for many reasons – fragmentation, noise, varied influencers, social chatter.”
The combined team will showcase public relations through visual storytelling and media relations, while integrating with HB’s branding, marketing strategy, design, social media and other services. The combined HB/Fresh Ground PR team will move clients off the linear path that too many PR firms follow, and onto one that incorporates media relations, self-publishing, content marketing, video, digital, images and more.
“The ‘editor-in-chief’ has become the public, whether that public is a broad consumer audience or a narrowly focused group in a vertical target market,” said Nicolas Boillot, CEO, HB. “As companies embrace the need to create relevant content that builds stakeholder communities, the right PR firms must seize the opportunity to produce a compelling flow of audience-appropriate and influential media, use feedback to understand what works, and rapidly increase production and outreach accordingly.”
Fresh Ground principals and founders Chuck Tanowitz and Todd Van Hoosear join HB as vice presidents, and the Fresh Ground team will join HB’s public relations department led by Mark O’Toole, managing director, PR & content at HB. HB public relations veterans Dawn Sullivan and Perrin McCormick have been promoted, respectively, to vice president of PR and senior account director, PR. The combined company will be located at HB’s Newton, Mass. headquarters.
Keep it fresh
Explore the HB site
By Chuck Tanowitz
As if they didn’t have enough to do, businesses now need to become their own media companies. Whether they are enterprise-focused B-to-B tech businesses or hot new consumer-facing apps, they must produce content, choose its forms, distribute it and use that content to reach their target audiences. They must also listen to their audience and transform it into a community. Future success depends on doing all of this well, consistently, and over the long term.
Todd Van Hoosear and I established Fresh Ground three years ago to rise to this new challenge – the future of public relations.
Our goal was to rethink PR and move beyond the “smile and dial” form of the profession that Todd and I had experienced up until then. It’s also why we specifically recruited director-level A-players like Ruth Bazinet.
Our clients recognize that we think differently than other traditional PR agencies. We look at the full communications picture, not just hit numbers. We think through, not just how to pitch a story, but what assets we have to use. We think through the story lifecycle, from conception to placement to how it’s shared. We take kernels of information and don’t just create “press releases” but find the right targets to reach the right audiences. That could be a blog post, maybe it’s an interview or a meetup, or maybe it’s a series of tweets. And yes, it can still be a press release.
Moving Beyond “Counting Hits”
Media placements have never been the ultimate goal for Fresh Ground. We’ve focused on business results. We pride ourselves on this. Our clients hire us because we achieve it every day. Our goal has always been to help our clients build reputations by relating to the broader public.
Media hits are just a means to that end.
Over the past several years we’ve watched a lot of our competitors talk about integrated PR programs. They’ll talk in broad concepts about “content” and “social programs,” but when you peel back the covers you find that under it all, they’re just pitching shops.
Let’s be clear – proper pitching and smart media relations are still critical parts of an overall PR strategy. Knowing how to craft and tell a story to an audience, then getting that audience to take action and write a story is, quite often, the highlight of a PR program.
But it’s only one component of an overall program, and the problem with pitching shops is what Peter Himler points out in his Forbes column from earlier this year: “Media relations is pushed to junior staffers at many big agencies — and in-house communications departments — with relatively little supervision or mentoring.”
Strategic Thinking, Business Results
The numbers talk – there are far fewer full-time journalists today and plenty more PR people; the ratio is 4 PR people to every journalist, by last count. That means to optimize success a company must also create its own content designed to drive results. The business must become its own media machine.
And that is why today, we are thrilled to join Fresh Ground with HB Agency.
A lot of people know HB primarily for its marketing strategy and design work, though its PR work is stellar (just ask the clients). HB doesn’t limit itself to the mold of a traditional, media relations-focused PR firm, and that’s exactly what appealed to us. Sure, HB get its clients in Fast Company, TIME and other media outlets, but it also tells stories through images and video that elevate campaign efforts to reach client customers, prospects and partners. HB has a design-focused and experienced creative team in place, comprised of experienced storytellers, just like Fresh Ground.
Adding Fresh Ground’s PR thought process to HB’s masterful visual storytelling is resulting in a group that not only takes PR to a new level, but cements the deep impact PR has on business and helps clients become the media companies they need to be.
Companies currently evaluating their marketing strategy need to see PR as the central part of the business and marketing process. All of our clients do that, and they are getting higher ROI for their PR dollars. PR, storytelling and content creation must be core to the company’s brand, and even startups must see themselves as burgeoning media companies, from seed funding onwards. Companies that don’t will lose out on potential revenue, partnerships and industry clout.
A solid PR firm must help navigate this world. If your agency can’t offer the visual aspect of storytelling, like design for example, then it can’t give you what you need.
The future of PR lies not in “getting ink” but in building media companies. The new HB is a sign of what’s to come in both PR and marketing.
Keep it fresh
Explore the HB site
Dear HB Client,
As you may have read or heard through internal channels, HB just completed its acquisition of Fresh Ground, Inc. As of September 3rd, Fresh Ground management and employees have been working at HB alongside our own team-members, and we are proud to report that rapid-fire conversations, streams of new ideas, and new talent contributions have already augmented a number of communications campaigns.
PR is Changing
The old-school techniques of PR are not nearly as effective as they once were. Yes, we still get our clients great coverage, but that’s not the only role for PR. Today it’s about connecting clients directly with their stakeholder communities, whether that’s customers, partners, investors, prospects or even competitors.
For decades the entertainment and political industries used ratings and polling to make the public “editor in chief.” More recently the easy click of a Facebook Like button or a Twitter retweet have given the same power to communities around every industry. Now we all can rapidly measure how audiences share and respond to content, providing valuable insights that determine both the value and lifespan of that content.
For PR agencies the mission is clear: we must help our clients become their own media companies.
Building Client Media Companies
Unfortunately, for most businesses the challenge seems almost insurmountable. They must focus on their core business challenge of creating and improving the products and services their audiences need. At the same time, they need to produce a high volume of heterogeneous content, reaching their audiences through media and vehicles that change faster than companies can keep up.
Whether a business is operating in B2B or B2C, it must now communicate with the understanding that each tactic may go further than intended. Communications campaigns must consider the B2B2B and B2B2C chains as they disseminate influential information through a wide range of media such as Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Google+, traditional news or trade media, video, infographics, web copy, events, webinars and more.
For many businesses, their PR and integrated marketing agencies must handle the bulk of the production and dissemination of content, ensuring that all of it is audience-appropriate, brand-supporting, community-building, and likely to influence thought and behavior to support long-term sales.
How the Fresh Ground Acquisition Helps You
With Fresh Ground, HB adds to its already impressive capabilities and talent pool. Fresh Ground Principals Chuck Tanowitz and Todd Van Hoosear are communications and social media leaders known for their thought-leadership and robust followings. Both left multinational communications agencies to start Fresh Ground four years ago because those agencies were not moving quickly enough in adopting new digital communications strategies on their clients’ behalf. Chuck joins HB as vice-president, editorial content, and Todd as vice-president, public relations and stakeholder engagement.
The talent and team they bring bolsters HB’s already strong group of integrated marketers and communicators with impressive social media and community-building capabilities. In its four-year trajectory, Fresh Ground staff have garnered an impressive number of wins and awards for their clients and the agency, including: winning Silver and Gold Bells from the Pub Club of New England; building blended content and media programs for clients that drove traffic and prospects; and using their content and media savvy to land coverage in everything from Cloud Computing Journal to the Wall Street Journal to NPR.
How You Can Benefit Immediately
While we anticipate few changes in your day-to-day experience of HB in the short term, as an HB client we would like to offer the opportunity to come in for a brainstorming session with your account leads and Chuck Tanowitz and Todd Van Hoosear. This will give you a chance to invest quality time with your team while getting to know Chuck and Todd. We anticipate such sessions to leave you with a host of new ideas for your communications programs, as you progress towards developing your own “media company” in the size and form that works to support your core business.
Finally, I’m pleased to announce two promotions that coincide with the Fresh Ground acquisition: Perrin McCormick is now senior account director, and Dawn Sullivan is vice president, PR & Content Strategy.
Please don’t hesitate to call me or any HB team-member with any questions. I look forward to hearing from you.