(Photo courtesy of What Works Studio)
When Brooke Hall started her eponymous creative and marketing agency in 2009, she was working out of her house.
Five years later, the since renamed What Works Studio is four, full-time employees strong — including Hall’s husband, Justin Allen — occupying space in a new office on Saratoga Street, and pushing the boundaries of the publication that anchors it all: What Weekly.
Launched in January 2010 by Hall and Allen, the first version of What Weekly was a shell of what the weekly, online-only magazine that covers the broader arts and music community in Baltimore city looks like today. It began as an e-mail, which was just “raw HTML,” Hall said, and the original website was made in iWeb.
“We started with a camera and a clipboard,” she said. “We were signing up people on a clipboard and would just talk about normal people.”
What Hall and Allen found was that What Weekly acted as a guerrilla type of content marketing. Writing about local music and art gallery openings, publishing pieces from local writers and documenting what they call the “Baltimore renaissance” appealed to a broader audience than just the people they were writing about. Over time, the subjects they would cover on the mostly advertising-free online magazine — which has collected accolades from Baltimore magazine in its annual “Best Of” issue, as well as from The Guardian newspaper — appealed to different organizations and businesses in town, who slowly reached out to the marketing side of the operation.
“[What Weekly] was a reason to talk to people,” said Hall. Eventually that led to paid marketing, branding, photography, website and design work, all of which helps sustain the magazine.
The fingerprints of What Works Studio can be seen throughout town. The agency was responsible for the print and web design of the first Baltimore Social Innovation Journal. (Hall and Allen were also Innovation Journal grant recipients for their Light City festival project.) What Works was the marketing agency behind the Bmore Gives More campaign organized by the recently acquired startup GiveCorps — a one-day event in late fall 2013 that raised more than $5 million for local nonprofits. And the agency also counts Live Baltimore and the Waterfront Partnership among its more than 50 clients.
But the “true heart of it all” is What Weekly, Allen said, adding that it’s intended to be positive and uplifting news portraying a side of Baltimore sometimes glossed over in typical cultural references. [Insert any Omar line from “The Wire” here.]
The next step, for now, is expanding the reach and frequency of its content. The online magazine recently began publishing daily stories, and Hall and Allen are both set on bringing more national and international coverage to the site.
“We aspire to reach a level of quality found in print magazines [with What Weekly],” said Allen.