by Herman Manson (@marklives) Where do journalists go as their industry divests from original content? To industry doing the exact opposite, of course — like marketing, to be exact.

Tom Manners spent several years as a tech journalist, watching the need for quality content boom all around him. Testing the freelance market, he turned to producing content for a number of PR agencies working with technology brands.

That was three-and-a-half years ago.

Tom MannersTook the gap

Six months in, he was joined by his journo buddy, Nic Simmonds (founding editor of MyGaming). The duo set out acquiring their own client base, saw a gap in the burgeoning social-media space — where they decided to position themselves as specialists — and they were properly in business.

They quickly started working on brands such as Nintendo, Playstation and Ster-Kinekor.

At the start of 2013, Clockwork Media, as they had dubbed their business, added a fully-fledged PR division to the business. PR and social are the new holy grail in communications, in case anybody hasn’t noticed.

Booming business

The PR business, integrated with social-media strategy skills, has seen the business boom, growing from just the two at the start of 2013 to 17 staffers by August 2014. It is built on five pillars: content, media relations, digital, creative and demand-generation.

Clients now include SAP, Philips (globally, through OnceVoiceConnect*), PlayStation and Ster-Kinekor, among others. The agency has just set up shop in London, making use of the rand/pound exchange rate and a reputation for quality to attract new business.

Today, around 80% of Clockwork Media’s revenues comes from technology brands. Between 30-40% is still generated through managing the social strategies of these clients.

Positioned as storytellers

Manners believe PR and communication agencies will continue to grab budget share. Agencies with strong below-the-line credentials and strong content departments are especially well-placed for success. They are positioned as storytellers, and storytelling, believes Manners, is where marketing budgets are increasingly moving to.

According to Manners, South Africa will be the main production hub of the agency and is especially proud of the social campaigns it manages for Philips (through OnceVoiceConnect*) via Johannesburg. It generates responsive content around events, such as South by Southwest (SXSW) and the FIFA World Cup for us, across Philips’ global social-media platforms.

Growth is coming from two sides — content marketing and lead generation. It’s on the lead-generation side that Manners really want to build out the business, moving the agency towards a consultancy model. It already consults to large sales teams on how to turn social and digital interactions into actual sales. It is currently developing its own social selling tool, called Mouthpiece, that is set to be rolled out in 2015.

Specialists should specialise

Managing its quick growth has been a steep learning curve, says Manners, who was named by the Mail & Guardian as one of its top 200 young achievers. Putting in place processes has been key, as has allowing staff to specialise, rather than to try and become jack-of-all-trades — writers write; media managers manage media relationships; specialists should employ specialists, he says.

It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off for Manners and his team. The focus on integrating strategy, production and dissemination of content in its niche has made it stand out and forced clients to sit up and take notice. It’s a new breed of communications agency.

It looks like the market is ready for it.

* Information updated 2014/11/11

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