Girgis and Hall: Putting the performance in content

December 18, 2013  |  Comments

Michael Girgis and Deb Hall have made a career out of proving doubters wrong. When they co-chaired Marketing’s Digital Day conference in 2010, they were determined to have Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales provide the keynote address, despite repeated assurances from colleagues they would never pull it off. They did.

Both built successful independent companies in what had been largely underdeveloped arenas. Girgis and his partners built digital advertising company Onestop Media Group into a sizeable player before selling to Pattison Outdoor; Hall’s company Web2Mobile, which optimized websites for mobile devices, was purchased by Torstar Corp.

The two have come together on a new company, Performance Content Group, which specializes in what they call “data fueled content creation.” It uses big data to help agencies and their clients create better, more engaging content for the digital age.

Girgis’ former Onestop partner Jake Neiman (chief financial officer) and veteran software executive Oshoma Momoh (chief technology officer) – who helped launch Microsoft’s Bing search engine – round out the company’s executive team.

Operating out of one of countless industrial spaces converted into tech and creative hubs that dot downtown Toronto, the company is ideally situated at the intersection of two of the biggest trends in marketing: content marketing and big data.

It runs a combination of first-party brand data and data culled from several partners in the social listening space through its own proprietary algorithm to create real-time predictive insights.

“We’re always left at the end of the channel trying to optimize content for devices, when really it should be the other way around: how do we take big data, unearth it to figure out what belongs where and when, and then place it in those different environments?” Hall explains.

Marketers spent more than $40 billion worldwide on content marketing in 2012, but Hall says the space is still susceptible to the same uncertainty that has plagued advertising since its inception: Is the right message connecting with the right audience?

“It’s great to optimize the media [as is being done through programmatic buying], but what do you actually tweet about or put on the Facebook page?” says Hall. “For a lot of brands that can be a really overwhelming decision. You want to put something that attracts customers, but you don’t want to get into these wormholes of conversation that can get you into PR trouble.”

Mark Sherman, founder and CEO of Media Experts, whose agency has been working with Performance Content for nearly a year, said the company is capable of providing insights into consumer behaviour that go “way beyond” what he called the primitive building blocks of demographics and market research.

“Agencies are struggling with making sense of data,” he said. “We have tons of data from multiple sources that can tell a story, but aggregating that data, making sense of that data and drawing insights from it is the current challenge in business.”

Sherman said that Performance Content has supplied his agency with “highly insightful” information into participating brands. “There were some real cherries in there,” he said. “Having a service that gives you the pulse of what your consumer is thinking in real time as they’re moving around the web is very interesting.

“It’s getting to know who you’re selling to, and when you’re dealing with a company that has a multi-brand portfolio, to be able to distinguish how that differs across your portfolio of brands is very interesting and useful.”

Performance Content employs what Hall describes as a people and machine model to arrive at its insights. The human element is crucial said Hall, since it enables Performance Content to examine – and dismiss – information that can seem at odds with known brand traits.

Some of its prior brand research, for example, seemed to suggest a link between moms and mixed martial arts. “When our systems identify mixed martial arts for this defined audience… we have to dig further to identify ‘Are we on to something here?’” said Hall. “Maybe there is some value here or is this an anomaly that we don’t want to bring forward?”

Performance Content last week announced a new initiative with Starcom MediaVest Group and AOL Canada’s news and opinion site, The Huffington Post Canada.

Developed in association with wireless communications provider BAI Canada, the new TConnect venture works to bring mobile Wi-Fi to two Toronto TTC stations, part of a larger wireless installation process designed to help commuters stay connected throughout the TTC system.

The Wi-Fi launch page will feature real-time content sponsored by SMG client Mondolez, whose brand portfolio includes OREO, Cadbury and the Stride and Dentyne gum brands. SMG’s Liquid Thread unit will work with The Huffington Post Canada to develop the conent.

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