We’ve been around for a while, but we’ll try to keep it brief. Here's the tale of a radio station turned news organization and ultimately inbound marketing agency, with a lot of color in between.
(1987 – 2004)
It was a different time and a very different company. Ronald Morey started the Morey Organization in 1987 to hold the license for a Class-A FM frequency located in Queens, NY. At the time, the frequency was home to the self-proclaimed “World Famous WLIR” on 92.7 FM. For the uninitiated, WLIR was the country’s first alternative rock station — or “New Wave” as it was called back then. Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths. Later, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, No Doubt. WLIR was more than a radio station; it was a lifestyle.
The last applicant standing, Ron Morey was awarded the license after a lengthy process. (The former owner had lost the right to operate the frequency.) In December of 1987, he took ownership of the frequency, though the call letters WLIR were no longer available. Thus, a new era began as WDRE. Same frequency, same music, same DJs and the same commitment to breaking alternative music.
Over the next fifteen years the company would acquire additional radio stations in Albany, NY, Philadelphia, PA and across Long Island. As the company expanded, so did its interest in the music industry. From 1999 – 2004, the organization owned and operated the Vanderbilt, an event facility located in the heart of Long Island and operated a radio syndication company that broadcast the WDRE frequency to several radio stations throughout the country.
(2002 – 2017)
Jed Morey founded Morey Publishing in 2002 to launch The Long Island Press, an alternative newspaper to complement WDRE. The Press was essentially the Village Voice of Long Island. An alternative to the mainstream media. Though it was a completely different business model, the spirit was essentially the same. It made sense that the alternative radio company of record in New York would have an alternative publication.
Cell phones and social media hadn’t yet taken over — people still read newspapers and listened to the radio. All was right and well in the world.
In 2004, the Morey Organization divested the radio division. By then, all that was left was the Long Island Press. Over the next several years, the Press would go on to win hundreds of awards and become the conscience of Long Island. The Long Island Press team was fearless and relentless. We questioned authority, challenged conventional wisdom and spoke truth to power. The core discipline and values that defined our work became part of our DNA and would ultimately prevent our demise.
The rest of the story is pretty typical. Craigslist. Facebook. Twitter. The disruption was swift and overwhelming. All at once, it seemed, people stopped picking up newspapers. (And we were free!) Advertisers started to retreat. The industry was collapsing in on itself. Newsrooms were being cut. Bureaus were being shuttered.
Pretty soon, the entire world would fall into a deep recession. At that point, there was no turning back. So we followed the herd for a while. We cut our print run. Got small. Thought small. Held on for dear life because we truly felt that our work had meaning and we served a greater good. Our investigative journalism had thrown corrupt politicians out of office, shed light on environmental disasters, given voice to victims of abuse and addiction and so much more.
We felt a moral imperative to find a way to sustain our journalistic outlet despite clear evidence the industry and economy were crumbling around us. This much we knew: we sure could write.
(2011 – Ongoing)
We had the privilege of publishing the Long Island Press for fifteen years. What began as an alternative weekly in print eventually grew to an online news source with more than 2 million unique readers per year. During our tenure, we won more than 400 local, regional and national awards and employed a staff of veteran writers routinely regarded as the finest on Long Island.
But like so many other publishers and journalists, we found ourselves in the ultimate business conundrum. Technology gave us the ability to reach far beyond the audience potential we had previously imagined. This came at a heavy price. The ubiquity of information and ease of technology commoditized the news and the capacity to monetize our ever-expanding audience nearly evaporated. The world shifted from information scarcity to abundance and the journalism landscape would never be the same.
Determined to stay together and produce high quality content, we shifted our business model from transactional (advertising) to service (web design.) We had built up great equity in our marketplace; our company was trusted and our relationships were deep and widespread. The fact that we employed the very best designers and writers on Long Island theoretically meant we could pivot to this new model quickly, though there were certainly risks associated with this transition. The first is that journalists aren’t hardwired to write marketing copy. It’s anathema to the alternative journalism mindset. Then there was the fact that we had only ever built our own website. (Of course, it helped that it was the second largest local website in one of the largest markets in the nation… Okay, that was a bit haughty.)
Our biggest concern was whether we could maintain our journalistic integrity in this new model.
At first, we took pretty much any project that came our way. This gave our team the opportunity to learn, grow and master the basics of quality web development. We applied the same “can do” attitude and deadline oriented mentality that served us well in publishing to storytelling and design for our clients. We learned a lot about ourselves in this initial transition period and remain eternally grateful to the organizations that took a chance on us. Stunning design was always a core offering of our company. Morey’s Creative Director, Jon Sasala, made sure of it. And yet these days were still somewhat fraught because we were increasingly dependent upon our writers to produce content that didn’t necessarily reflect their values or skill set.
The tricky part was that it was our writing that set us apart from the competition in the marketplace. Journalism training was our secret weapon. Suddenly, the very thing that we feared would be the death of us - writing - was that which gave us life. So we set out to build on this core competency while attempting to rebalance the integrity equation. Having fought for so long to distinguish ourselves as incorruptible journalists, we looked for a way to maintain our belief system and build a sustainable business model.
The answer came in three parts.
Founded in Cambridge, MA by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot is a leader in the marketing automation space. As an industry, marketing technology “mar-tech” has grown exponentially in the past decade since Halligan and Shah first conceived of a platform that would automate several manual functions in digital marketing. They coined the term “Inbound Marketing,” which became the company’s signature mantra for several years. The ability to attract an audience by producing quality content that would rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs) was fundamental to search engine optimization (SEO.) HubSpot solved several core issues for web designers and companies, particularly the ability to house several tools in one place and automate previously manual best practices.
Because HubSpot was primarily a content platform, it was a natural fit for our core skill set. The automation allowed us to focus on producing quality content first and foremost. Because the battle for primacy on the search engines was an ongoing process, it also gave us the ability to shift our model from project work to retainer. Almost immediately, our core offering went from capital expense to ongoing budget item. And because we could produce high quality content and design services more efficiently as a result of the HubSpot platform, we were able to fulfill critical marketing needs for our clients at a fraction of what it would cost them to do it on their own. In short, HubSpot made us better developers and more efficient content producers while housing key analytics in one place.
By 2017, Morey Publishing was fully committed to the world of digital marketing and the agency had grown dramatically. But we weren’t yet prepared to abandon our journalistic roots. We made the difficult decision to sell the Long Island Press to a publisher in Queens with whom we enjoyed a long-standing relationship. Knowing our baby was in good hands and was given new life by a capable local publisher, we divided our writers into two camps. By this time we had already recruited young, hungry writers who came up on the marketing side of the business and never practiced journalism. Under the guidance and training of our Editor in Chief, Christopher Twarowski, these writers had blossomed. With proper protocols in place, we separated out a small core of journalists to launch a new endeavor called News Beat.
News Beat is a social justice podcast and website that tackles important issues such as civil liberties, mass incarceration, perpetual war and press freedoms. It’s funded entirely by the agency and operates with complete independence. Though it has no relevant relationship to our core business model, we consider News Beat the heart that pumps blood through our system. It’s who we are and gives us greater purpose. The editors of News Beat still work closely with our content developers to guide, train and assist them; moreover, they serve as an inspiration to remind our writers of the awesome power of the written word. It's the core element of our tagline, "Grow, for Good," which has a dual meaning. For Good, meaning forever. And For Good, meaning to do good in the world. We believe that companies can be mission-based and profitable, so we choose to fund this social justice endeavor as part of our commitment to the greater social fabric.
Who are we? What do we do? Who do we do it for? Why do we do it? The third aspect of our transition to preserve our integrity and perform high quality work came about rather organically. Inspired by HubSpot’s culture code, our team set out to answer a few key questions about our organization, our people and our collective future. Several work sessions elicited the Morey Publishing Culture Code, a living document that serves to guide our journey and inform our hiring and business development practices.
These discussions also sparked a name change. The team decided that the word “publishing” was limiting and anachronistic. Thus we changed our operating name to Morey Creative Studios to more accurately reflect the present state of our journey. Culture, as Jon Sasala pointed out to the team, isn’t created. It just is. Therefore, the Culture Code that we created isn’t aspirational. Rather, it is a reflection of who we are today. It clearly delineates the kind of clients and employees we wish to recruit and retain. And in both cases, they must share our value system and adopt our culture of kindness, hunger, empathy and accountability.
We could go on about the code and the process, but viewing the deck itself is probably the best way to learn about who we are and what we stand for.
(2014 – Ongoing)
And so we built. We sold the Press, doubled down on our core strengths and began expanding our horizons, our services and our client base. As writers, we were fortunate to work with designers who shared our level of commitment to great journalism and possessed incomparable talent in the marketplace. One after another, the Island’s foremost brands began turning to us for their digital needs. Over the past couple of years, more companies began to take notice and we expanded our reach throughout New York. Today we have clients from all over the world as a Platinum HubSpot Partner Agency specializing in Inbound Content Marketing and Sales Enablement.
In 4th quarter of 2016, we made the first of two crucial decisions. We decided to stop bringing on new clients for a six month period to focus on internal growth initiatives and training and to create an agency roadmap. This period allowed us to take stock of our team, the competitive landscape and where we fit into the future of digital marketing. This process elicited our second crucial decision. In early 2017, around the time we sold the Long Island Press, we decided to forego project and development work and focus exclusively on implementing holistic sales and marketing services on the HubSpot platform. Many of the clients we represented were growing. Much of it was related to our efforts but the key ingredients were really on the client side. In 2018 we opened our first satellite office in Philadelphia.
Our roster began to fill with growth oriented companies that were willing to challenge their own business models and take certain risks. The longer we worked together and the more aligned we were in pushing the envelope, the deeper the relationships became. We gained indispensable partners in these companies and continue to enjoy close relationships with them.
Over the past four years, we have been steadily adding highly skilled marketers to our team and attracting larger clients. We have worked diligently to add internal capabilities and strengthen our knowledge of HubSpot’s expanding platform to adapt quickly to trends in digital marketing. Establishing robust processes that were flexible enough to adjust to market and algorithm changes became an obsession.
(2018 – Ongoing)
We’re nearly caught up. Something important is occurring as we write this next chapter together. The chapters are beginning to overlap and changes are coming quickly and persistently. All around us industries are being disrupted at a pace never before witnessed in recorded history. As we experienced in the publishing industry, and as we would have experienced in terrestrial radio broadcasting, the pace of change is increasing exponentially. We’re particularly sensitive to this pattern of disruption and not just because we fell victim to it. One of our clients is on the leading edge of exponential change research and how disruptive technology is impacting industry and civilization.
Once we decided to pivot from project work to representing organizations with ongoing retainers and building only on the HubSpot platform, we have been able to expand our horizons. Ironically, by limiting our focus we have expanded our reach and our ability to positively impact growth.
Perhaps the biggest gamble that has paid numerous dividends is our bet on HubSpot. In the early days, HubSpot established itself as a leader in marketing automation. What has transpired at HubSpot over the past few years has been simply remarkable. HubSpot’s customer relationship management (CRM) functionality is now best in class. It rivals Salesforce and, in many ways, exceeds it. This year they released two new important areas of their platform as well: The Service Hub and Conversations. The former consolidates customer and client services functions in the central database. The latter facilitates internal and external communications. Taken as a whole, HubSpot has created the ultimate business operating system, enabling every department within an organization to work as a unit and access analytics.
Leveraging HubSpot's robust platform to help our clients' grow their businesses is the name of the game now. We help our clients develop long-term growth strategies so they can do more good in the world. Thus, our tagline... Grow, for Good.
Now we’re looking ahead. And the future is bright for those who embrace change, disrupt their own industries and build resilient, yet flexible models for growth. As such, we too are embracing changes in digital marketing and working closely with HubSpot and our clients to chart an aggressive yet stable path forward.
To follow our journey in real-time, be sure to subscribe to our agency podcast, Inbound & Down.