Knoxville Media Spotlight – PopFizz: A Guest Blog by Kelly Hastings

This video is a recap of our MediaWorks’ Demo Day 2015 program and was produced by our supporters at Launch Tennessee. In the video, KEC’s Executive Director Jim Biggs speaks to Knoxville’s strength as a “media town,” which was traditionally something of a well-kept secret.  We aim to shine a light on the media industry that is so vital and indigenous to our region, starting with a spotlight on local heroes and storytellers — PopFizz.  Enjoy!  – joy

PopFizz: A Guest Blog by Kelly Hastings

If there is one thing Knoxville knows how to produce other than die-hard college football fans and women’s basketball championships, it is digital media content. With over fifty media companies ranging in size from just a handful of employees and modest revenue to over 1,000 employees and $650 million in revenue, Knoxville houses one of the largest and most unique media markets in the country. If these numbers seem like good news for the local and regional economy, the amount of entrepreneurial activity and startup companies within the booming industry is even better for city and state economic development. Perhaps the best way to truly understand the digital media market that exists in and around Knoxville is to tell the stories of its many composite companies. I hope to tackle that challenge by embarking on a tour of diverse media firms, including small start-ups, mega-production houses and everything in between.

First stop: PopFizz, a photography, video, motion and film production company that offers clients much more than just media content.

I recently had the privilege of chatting with PopFizz Founding Partner and Executive Producer Joseph Nother, who formed PopFizz nearly two years ago with partners Bryan Allen and Brandon Rochelle. Before the creation of PopFizz, Nother experienced entrepreneurial success as founder of Designsensory, a branding, advertising and interactive company formed in 2001 with the help of Rochelle. He currently serves as a Principal and Executive Creative Director of the agency, which has grown to over 30 people with two offices in Knoxville and Nashville.

Allen, who serves as both Managing Partner and Director of Photography for PopFizz, brings fourteen years of corporate business experience at Scripps Networks Interactive, where he held the title Senior Vice President. Together, Nother, Allen and Rochelle have just the right combination of creative, business and technical experience necessary to make PopFizz a successful competitor in Knoxville’s extensive media market.

Armed with the appropriate backgrounds and skills, the three partners have created a business model that promises to deliver more than just rich media content to clients. Their vision for PopFizz is to offer brands, agencies and organizations an integrated, seamless approach to media creation. According to Nother, the goal is to “engage people with relevant content” through greater involvement in the pre-production processes. PopFizz isn’t just a vendor that shoots, films and edits content. They are a complete “turn-key” content partner, translating strategy, concept and pre-production into production, post-production and distribution.

PopFizz employs nine digital artists, editors, producers, filmmakers and photographers with a wide variety of creative talents and accomplishments, including two feature-length films and a successful singer/songwriter career. Each member of the team brings a unique perspective and background to the business, enabling PopFizz to serve a variety of different clients.

PopFizz, in close collaboration with agency Designsensory, currently works with the Tennessee Wildlife Research Agency (TWRA) on the second season of their public television series titled “Tennessee Uncharted.” TWRA approached Designsensory to develop a new show for their changing audience, which has begun to prefer outdoor leisure activities such as hiking, cycling and boating over hunting and fishing. Nother explained that Tennessee’s current population has shifted from traditional “hook and bullet” sportsmen to more leisurely outdoor enthusiasts. Show host Erick Baker is a celebrated Knoxville musician and Tennessee native who helps viewers explore the beauty and resources of Tennessee’s natural landscape from the comfort of their own homes. Season 1 debuted in the fall of 2014 on PBS to stellar reviews. Season 2 has been shooting throughout 2015 and will air in late fall.

Nother and his team are also very proud of their work for the Tennessee Department of Economics and Community Development. In the past, Designsensory worked with the organization on their “Mastered in Tennessee “ Campaign. More recently, they were tasked with creating a video to foster industry development and recruit large businesses to the Memphis Regional Megasite, a 4,100-acre plot of land in West Tennessee. I had the good fortune of viewing the overview commercial in its final stages of development before its official release in late summer. The spot tells a beautiful story of industry and culture in the Memphis region, using carefully crafted language and breathtaking aerial footage of the natural landscape. It paints a picture of the area’s vast economic growth potential that appeals to both the results-driven business opportunist and the emotions of the casual viewer.

Perhaps the most common theme that emerged during my conversation with Nother was the importance of brand storytelling and content engagement or “brand journalism.” According to Nother, businesses may have the right product or business model but will often fail because they don’t accurately portray their stories to customers in a compelling manner. He stressed that while sound business principles and practices are foundationally necessary, the presentation of the brand itself is crucial to the launch, growth and continued success of an organization. Like any true entrepreneur, his approach is one of philosophy and artisanship that seeks to explain why an idea or entity exists before attempting to produce a tangible product.

PopFizz’s story is one of spirited entrepreneurialism, creative innovation and perseverance. Over 80% of the company’s production equipment was stolen within the first two months of its existence, forcing Nother and his partners to rebuild when they had barely begun. With enough time and effort, PopFizz has become a successful production house that offers clients unique and relevant branding strategies and media content. Nother’s final advice for entrepreneurs encourages perseverance and patience using language that harkens back to the rich musical heritage of our great state: “Don’t quit before you find your rhythm.”

– Kelly Hastings, 2015 KEC Guest Blogger