By Kath Walters

Sydney content marketing agency, Filtered Media, must qualify for the prize: Most Unlikely Start.

In 2007, IT editor Mark Jones explained to his boss, Glenn Burge, then the editor of The Australian Financial Review, that he had enrolled in “bible college” – Tabor College in the Sydney suburb of Miranda.

“What does that mean?” Burge asked. 

“I don’t think I can study and be IT editor at the same time,” Jones confessed.

So, for the next four years, studying two days a week, Jones freelanced for the AFR and other publications. He was very successful at it, but he watched with dismay as the payment rates for freelance work (a rate per word) began to fall. “I could see what was happening to freelance rates and I started to get invites to do some corporate work,” he says. “Other freelancers were doing it, but it was hush-hush. I saw it was a much better use of my time: more money for the same output.”

As Jones took more corporate work, “things just got busier” and Jones began to hire.

In 2011, Jones reached a turning point. His wife Heather was paid a redundancy from Lenovo where she had managed the company’s communications department. After four years of study at Tabor, Jones saw no opportunity to fulfil his dream of becoming a pastor and starting a church.

So, using the redundancy, the couple incorporated Filtered Media. “What we did was almost unheard of. We decided to take the best bits of ‘comms’ and PR, and combine that with writing and storytelling. That was the genesis of the company.”

A clever business decision

“Nothing about business journalism teaches you how to run a business,” Jones says.

His solution? Surround himself with people who “know what they are doing”.  Jones says: “I appointed accountants, Kelly Partners, and that was one of the smartest things I have done. We have board meetings, and they are teaching me as we go.”

The couple both have excellent corporate contacts, and aimed high from the start. Their tagline – Telling your story. Brilliantly. – has attracted clients including Adobe, Telstra and Cola-Cola.

Today, the company employs 11 people (including the founders), and passed one million dollars in turnover “a while ago” and is growing, year on year, at 100%.

That’s what you pay for

Think like a brand, act like a publisher, the saying goes around the emerging content marketing industry. But it is easier said than done.

Jones says working across the division of large corporations, especially global ones, can present problems. Internal stakeholders have different views on how a story should be presented, and what it says.

“You might write a story about HR, and then go to the head of HR and say we have written this story, and quoted all these people. Give us a few lines about what you think. Then they say that [the whole story] is not how I view the world of HR.”

The question becomes who approves the story: the head of HR or the client, who might be the marketing manager.

“But that is what you pay for,” says Jones. “All the behind the scenes work to get the acceptable outcomes.”

Jones says his company now spends more time on internal communications at the start of a new content marketing program.

Future plans

Jones hopes to reach a staff of 30 within a few years, and become the most respected storytelling agency in Australia.

The couple discovered they love working together (they had an escape clause at the 12-month mark).

Jones is in two minds about when or if to sell the company. “I am in two minds about selling. For our lifestyle, it works well, and gives a degree of self-determination. Heather and I work hard at making it great place to work. If we sold out, we would potentially risk a lot of that stuff.”

As for Jones’ dream of starting a church, it’s still there. “I have not given up on it. I’m just waiting to see how that part of my life will pan out.”