“What’s funny about the Emmys is you have to work in a tux. That’s always pretty weird,” said Damian Petrou, co-founder of Brave New Media, a digital marketing company on Nicollet Avenue in Whittier.
Last month, Petrou was at the Emmys in Los Angeles, directing the press center and sharing red carpet feed with media outlets. Last week, he was at Comic-Con in New York, producing panels for the Syfy network. In between, Petrou stopped at the Eat Street headquarters to edit a video for Cassia.
“I kind of feel like we’re the anti-agency. We’re always doing our own thing here,” Petrou said. “We’ve been around for 20 years, so we’ve seen everything.”
Founded in 1998 by Petrou, who grew up in Longfellow, and Craig Baillie, who grew up in Uptown, the fellow soccer fans launched Brave New Media at a time when their marketing clients started asking if they knew how to build websites. They figured they had better learn.
“At that point, digital video and websites were absolutely exploding,” Baillie said. “They were just coming on to the scene.”
“Craig was a print designer and all of a sudden people needed these brochures to be live online for trade shows,” Petrou said.
At the same time, video editing technology became more accessible.
“All of a sudden you could afford — well, kind of afford — 50 thou to get a computer and edit video,” Petrou said. “We could be two guys in a basement somewhere making the television spot. That was unheard of 20 years ago.”
Modern marketing challenges are much different. Baillie now spends much of his time with Google analytics and Google ads, following key words and search results and monitoring data to determine how marketing actions impact consumer behavior.
“Search engines have always been important, and now they’re paramount,” Baillie said.
Petrou has watched a shift back to broadcasting and “old school TV principles.” That’s where the eyeballs are, he said. He directs the red carpet programming at the Fox Teen Choice Awards every year, and he’s discovered the red carpet captures more viewers than the award show.
No longer focused on acting talent, Petrou often suggests social media influencers as the stars of his productions. For an hour-long Google VR Labs livestream with basketball star Kevin Durant, they recruited some of Google’s top social media influencers — sWooZie, What’s Inside?, Ryan ToysReview and Hot Ones — who together have more than 42 million subscribers.
“Producing this type of content, it was like working in the future,” he said.
At the Coachella and Lollapalooza music festivals, Petrou has directed livestreams shot in VR180, running the 3D channel for four days, 10 hours a day. That type of virtual reality is dead, he said, and future festival livestreams would likely incorporate augmented reality (AR).
“We like to say we’re technology agnostic,” Baillie said. “We’ll use whatever technology we think is best to solve the creative problem.”
They’ve equipped the Eat Street office to be ready for anything.
An editing suite is outfitted for recording, with a double wall and a floor filled with sand to deaden the sound. A green screen is available for photo shoots. An audio studio and control room host voiceovers and BraveNewRadio.com, a new passion project dedicated to local music.
“We’re somewhere between an agency and a production house,” Baillie said.
Brave New Media bought the two-story building at 2110 Nicollet Ave. six years ago; it was originally constructed as a farmers’ credit union in 1948.
The company plays a role in the local Eat Street Festival, providing marketing services and serving as a premier sponsor. Baillie said he suggested the idea years ago, and when it later gained momentum he shared an old budget and map he had drawn up.
“I’ve always felt that this area could use some kind of street festival, because it’s so diverse and it’s hard to bring all the groups together,” Baillie said. “This neighborhood I truly believe is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and it should be celebrated.”
The local office currently holds seven employees. Petrou and a second staff member are based in Los Angeles, and the CFO is based in Europe. The building also holds the tenant Software for Good, which develops web and mobile content for groups that work toward positive environmental and social change.
Shelves of props include many cereal bowls for longtime client Malt-O-Meal. A freezer is full of ice cream from client Blue Ribbon Classics. A commemorative Minnesota United shirt is on display, a recent gift from the team.
Before the United became a Major League Soccer team, Brave New Media spent two years working pro bono for the Minnesota Stars, running their website, traveling on the road with the team, filming documentaries and brokering a deal with Surly Brewing to give fans a few thousand dollars in free beer. When the team sang “Wonderwall” in the locker room after a victory, Petrou shot a video and posted it to social media.
“It’s now the anthem when we win games for 20,000 people in St. Paul,” said Minnesota United Sporting Director Manny Lagos, former coach of the Stars.
Lagos granted rare film access to the training, locker room and away game travel, and he said the videos played an important role in telling their story as they won a championship and searched for an ownership group.
“It really is an amazing story of where we are now and where we were,” Lagos said.
“At the time, we needed satellite dishes the size of suitcases and emerging technology that was hard to understand and Petrou quickly grasped it all,” Buettner said. “Occasionally he’d be up all night getting these videos ready from remote places in Turkey and the Amazon.”
Buettner woke one morning in Costa Rica to find Petrou still awake and editing video in the tropical heat. They met with Panchita, a centenarian who had also been awake for hours. Every day for decades, she swept, chopped wood, built a fire and made tortillas for her son to bike to a local hospital, Petrou said.
“That was her sense of purpose,” he said.
Petrou said he thinks about Panchita when friends in the industry talk about burnout.
“You think that you need a stress-free life,” he said. “But she feels that everyone needs a little bit of stress in life to keep you going.”