Duluth-based aimClear plans expansion into ‘social journalism’
His ideas flow like an erupting volcano, his cyber savvy beyond most people’s grasp.
At any time, it’s hard to keep up with the energetic Marty Weintraub, founder of aimClear, a fast-growing online marketing agency in Duluth known for its innovative social media marketing strategies.
But it’s especially hard to keep up with Weintraub when he’s embarking on his next innovation.
Weintraub already has created one of the coolest, hippest work spaces in Duluth, on the second floor of 9 W. Superior St., one of downtown’s oldest buildings. There, a staff of 19, along with a smaller team in St. Paul, specialize in demographic targeting for clients that have included Intel Corp., Tektronix and Martha Stewart.
“We can target people and follow them on the Internet,” Weintraub said. “Everybody has the capability, but we’re really good at it, because we were first.”
Now Weintraub — who owns aimClear with his wife and CEO, Laura — is embarking on another first. He’s expanding to the building’s 5,000-square-foot third floor for a plunge into what he describes as “social journalism.”
Weintraub is building a television studio up there.
He’s including a state-of-the-art video production facility, with a 26-by-8-foot raised sound stage plus room for an audience of 50 people. The production area will take up one-third of the floor. But the whole floor, with its open layout, high ceiling and desks on wheels, will be considered a potential set.
The investment is substantial for the seven-year-old company even with revenue of $4.6 million in 2013. The more than $500,000 in construction costs are being shared with building owner Vonrock, LLC. But aimClear’s costs will be hundreds of thousands of dollars more for the needed equipment, furniture and salaries, Weintraub said.
For starters, Weintraub is looking to hire one or two television journalists who are videographer, writer, video editor, reporter, storyteller and on-camera presenter all rolled into one. He said he’ll pay more than local TV does. He plans to hire the first in May and expects to have a broadcast team of three in a year.
But aimClear won’t be doing standard newscasts, nor making commercials, infomercials or music videos, Weintraub said.
“It’s really about creating video content for clients,” said Weintraub, who has a television background. “It’s content for ourselves and our clients.”
They’ll create social media shorts. He’ll send correspondents to cover trade shows and industry events. They’ll gather information, interview experts and thought leaders and package it into video segments.
“I want to go to Darfur and cover the climate change conference for a client,” he said. “We’ll be able to construct a CNN segment if we want.”
And what they produce will end up on social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine, Reddit and Vimeo, he said.
Besides creating the targeted content, they’ll teach others how to do it.
“We make more money advising others than doing it ourselves,” Weintraub said.
But first up will be a weekly podcast — “Live from WTF” — for aimClear’s blog. WTF is their large incubator-like glassed-in conference room. The initials stand for “What the …,” well, use your imagination.
“We’ll talk about the online universe and about life and about online marketing tactics,” Weintraub said of the podcast.
Startup nears Work to convert the third floor — which had been empty and unused for decades — began in early March and should be done in three weeks, said project superintendent Greg Jarvis of RJS Construction.
RJS also did the earlier conversion of the second floor into aimClear’s cutting-edge lifestyle workspace reminiscent of Google’s flexible work campus. It includes an open design with vibrant colors, a gourmet kitchen and workout area with treadmill desks.
Wagner Zaun Architecture in Duluth designed both.
Like the second floor, the third floor combines a contemporary industrial style with 19th century architecture.
The structure was built in 1884 to house the Silberstein & Bondy Co., a high-end mercantile store. Originally two stories tall, a third story was added in 1904. The line of the original roofline was uncovered when workers removed plaster on the interior walls to expose the bricks. The ladder-like imprint, running the full length of the walls, will be left exposed, along with the brick walls and original tin ceiling as a reminder of the building’s history.
But the adaptive re-use of the 130-year-old building has had its obstacles.
“The big thing is the age of the building and unique features, and the challenges of old architecture,” Jarvis said.
Because of that, some areas had to be reinforced or rebuilt on both upper floors, he said.
But seeing the results of their labor in preserving and adapting such buildings for new uses is extremely satisfying, he said.
“It’s a huge part of the fun in the job,” he said.
While Weintraub said aimClear is the first agency of its kind to build a TV studio and hire broadcast reporters, he thinks more will follow.
“Lots of other companies will do this, too,” he said. “There’s demand for it in our business. You’ll see more hiring TV journalists.”