Five years after selling New Media Strategies to Meredith Corp. and 12 years after founding it, CEO Pete Snyder is stepping down at the end of the year to launch a venture-capital firm and return to the political world.
While social-media marketing firms are now abundant, New Media Strategies staked out its position years before there was a Facebook or a Twitter -- or even a MySpace. A former media consultant and pollster who had been working for Rudy Giuliani and corporate clients in the late '90s, Mr. Snyder said that he had his eureka moment when Wired magazine hired him to conduct a study of the "Wired Nation," and he started thinking about the volume of conversations that were already happening online on message boards and chatrooms.
He started New Media Strategies in 1999 out of his rental apartment on Capitol Hill, quickly hired three people and signed on Burger King as the first major client. NMS was hired to do a study of the Pokemon industry, since Burger King was distributing its toys in kids' meals at the time, and to locate the biggest enthusiasts online and alert them about Burger King's campaign. The job turned into crisis management after a child choked to death on one of the toys and the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall; New Media Strategies messaged online communities to spread the word.
Business grew steadily for the firm, which now has about 130 employees and offices in Arlington, Va., Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and sales outposts around the country.
"The rise of the blogosphere took everything we were doing and put it on steroids," Mr. Snyder said.
New Media Strategies currently works with 85 different industries and counts Walt Disney Co., Sony and NBC among its clients, according to Mr. Snyder. The firm also recently worked with the NFL Players Association during this year's lockout and trained players on how to effectively use social media, in addition to taking charge of the association's official social-media presence.
"All the players stuck together, and we really used the power of Facebook and Twitter," he said, noting that the deal struck was favorable to the players, which he believes was partially attributable to the public perception that the owners were responsible for the lockout.
New Media Strategies dealt with a crisis of its own this past March, when an employee tweeted a profanity from the official @ChryslerAutos account while criticizing Detroit residents' driving ability -- mistakenly thinking he was on a private account. The employee was dismissed, but Chrysler still announced it wouldn't renew New Media Strategies's contract.
"When you're CEO of an organization you get credit for a lot of touchdowns you make, but you absolutely have to own it when you drop the ball," said Mr. Snyder, who retained the rest of the team despite losing Chrysler's business.
Mr. Snyder is handing over his duties at New Media Strategies to VP-Sales Jack Macleod, who will be the interim GM. As for his own next move, he's launching Disruptor Capital, which he says will focus on startups in the northern Virginia area, and he's especially interested in an emerging crop of public affairs and marketing firms in the region that currently have no angel investor or seed-funding channels open to them.
He's also agreed to be chairman of VA Victory 2012, a coordinated effort by Virginia Republicans to help elect GOP candidates to Congress and the White House. Mr. Snyder observed that the chairman role can often be a ceremonial one, but he intends to be hands-on.
Mr. Snyder credited Meredith Corp. with letting New Media Strategies operate autonomously after the sale and noted that he had chosen to remain two years beyond his three-year earn-out.
"It's been five years since I sold the company," he said. "I ran out of excuses for why I shouldn't start the next chapter."