4 Specialty Shops Trying to Make a Native Ad Land Grab

Treading on publisher and brand territory

With marketers increasingly wanting to become content creators, a number of specialty shops are trying to get in on the business that publishers and brands also are laying claim to. Here’s a look at four of them.

Knock Twice

Started in 2010 as a PR firm for tech startups, Knock Twice has added content and editorial programs to its mix. The agency has 10 or so people on staff who worked at news organizations like Gizmodo, Time and TechCrunch. Founding partner Kyle Monson also is a journalist by background (PC Magazine, Newsweek) who built JWT’s content division. “We’re committed to only hiring the best talent from the media world,” he said. “I don’t think publishers are making their best writers available to brands.” Despite flying under the radar, Knock Twice has built a roster of established and startup clients, including Google, Qualcomm and Amplify, often partnering with bigger agencies.

Deep Focus

The digital agency formed Moment Studio in 2012 to generate viral content for increasingly social brands. Today, it employs about 20 photographers, editors, designers and other creative professionals. They create blog posts and other content that often start out being distributed on social channels but can end up running as native ads. With clients like Pepsi, Absolut and Lay’s, the studio now contributes 10 percent of Deep Focus’ revenue. “Historically, advertising has been about convincing people,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, a part of the U.K.’s Engine Group. When we start making content where we want people to share it, it becomes more about the person than the brand.”


Former entertainment executive Shawn Amos was making fan affinity content for TV studios when he saw that all media companies had a need for good, fresh content. He founded Freshwire four years ago, creating and pitching infographics and other content to media outlets on behalf of brands but has increasingly moved into native advertising. The native trend “has been helpful in taking out what used to just be an earned opportunity, Amos said. Now part of Omnicom, Freshwire employs 12 content creators from a variety of editorial, creative and entertainment backgrounds. Clients have included PepsiCo, Visa and Reese’s.

Group SJR

Launched in 2004 as a content marketing agency, the shop employs 30 content creators, including designers, photographers and former staff writers for Bloomberg and Dow Jones. Group SJR considers its specialty to be substantive content like data visualization pieces, video and long-form articles, and oversees its distribution through social or media outlets. “Where the marketing world is headed is middle-weight content … with a higher level of writing and a longer shelf life,” said founder Alexander Jutkowitz. Bought by WPP in 2013, the agency now counts MPAA, GE and Levi Strauss among its clients.

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