Real-Time PR For the Web 2.0 Era

By Thomas Heath
Monday, August 11, 2008

Staff writer Thomas Heath's Value Added column appears Tuesdays on the WashBiz Blog. Most weeks, it profiles local entrepreneurs, discussing how they make money and what they do with it.

One of my favorite business bromides is, "Pioneering doesn't pay." You don't want to be the first person to build railroads or airlines or power plants, the thinking goes. The real money is in the steel that the railroads buy. Or the jets that the airlines purchase. Or the fancy electric appliances people buy for their homes. You get the drift.

Pete Snyder is 35 and worth tens of millions of dollars. Home in McLean. Vacation place in Nantucket. The former political junkie thinks of himself as an online pioneer, but I see him as more akin to the steelmaker or the appliance salesman. He is mining a lucrative niche in an industry created by others.

In 1997, the Republican strategist and one-time campaign adviser to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was doing market research for Wired magazine. He realized communications were rapidly changing into a two-way dialogue that was empowering millions of consumers who had hitherto been passive.

He envisioned a zillion business opportunities.

"I realized the wall of communications had been broken down," he said. "Now, it not only matters what people were saying about companies and candidates, but now you had to respond directly to them in real time."

It led him to create New Media Strategies.

NMS has 87 employees filling two upper floors of the former USA Today headquarters in Rosslyn. It will gross about $17 million this year and turn a profit of $5 million or so. Snyder sold his interest last year for $30 million to Meredith, a publicly traded media company.

Snyder, NMS's chief executive, wouldn't comment on the deal, but the sale price could climb to $60 million if he increases revenue in the next few years.

What does New Media Strategies do? Some call it PR. Creating buzz. Or damage control.

"It's influencing the influencers," he said. "If you are a cable channel and the success or failure of a show that you have invested tens of millions of dollars in hinges on 100,000 viewers, you are going to want to identify the 100 tastemakers who are going to impact hundreds of thousands more who can make or break your show."

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