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Firm swims against tide of conventional wisdom, launches Web content shop

Shrugging off the conventional view that Web site content development is a business with little future, a Baltimore Web consulting firm today will formally commit to creating a stand-alone division dedicated to writing copy for corporate Internet sites.

John Starcing

Although myriad Web site content development companies have gone down the tubes in recent months, Smith Content President John P. Starling (left) is unafraid, citing a two-and-a-half-year track record of success in the field. Colleagues Rob McDonald (center) and John Averill will join Starling in the effort.


Macdonald-Starling says it is starting a “content development incubator” as a kind of haven for writers from various genres. Beginning with veteran entertainment writer John Averill, who will serve as the entity’s senior writer, Smith Content will employ three scribes at first and eventually about eight.“We’re only looking for ‘blue collar’ writers,” said Smith Content President John P. Starling. “Somebody who can sit down for eight, nine, 10 hours and just bang it out.”Starling, who is also managing partner of Macdonald-Starling, said the new entity will be wholly owned by its progenitor but run autonomously, with its own staff and office space. Smith will sign a lease today for about 1,100 square feet in Baltimore City’s Hampden area, but Starling declined to give the precise location.“We stopped short of incorporating Smith, but it’s a dedicated business unit,” he said. “It’ll have it’s own office in Hampden, and that will be the place for the writers to think and collaborate and congregate.”He and partner Rob Macdonald, the creative director for Macdonald-Starling, selected Hampden for its eclectic, authentically Baltimore atmosphere. “Hampden is the real deal; it’s not trying to be anything other than Hampden.”He said the division will allow Macdonald-Starling — which had found itself, to its chagrin, writing much of the copy for its clients’ Web sites — to return to its core business of consulting with clients on branding and Internet issues. Meanwhile, Smith will attempt to carve a new, if untested, niche in the Internet development food chain.The parent will hire writers with whom it has worked in the past on a contract basis, and will charge rates not much higher than the going rate for freelance writers with experience in writing corporate Internet copy. Macdonald, in a statement, said the idea of the incubator is to foster the “raw creativity” that he believes clients will pay for. Although Web content development has been a disastrous business for companies that have relied on selling information to the public, Starling — noting that Smith’s business model is to sell Web-specific copywriting services to companies, or to work as subcontractors for Web design shops — said the idea passes his “smell test.” “We know there’s a need for it, because we’ve been answering this need for about two-and-a-half years,” Starling said.

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