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Commercial Appeal

You know the commercials. They come at you on the radio and television—those portentous voice-overs, the ominous soundtracks, the pulsating rock music. Something big, and maybe a little scary, is in store: a freestyle motocross or monster jam; a heavyweight title fight or mixed martial arts; the Flyers slashing toward the Stanley Cup; the Sixers … Well, nothing could juice them this year.
 

Photo by Jared Castaldi

It’s the art of persuasion brought to you by Propulsion Media Labs, a Malvern-based production company that provides the talent and know-how for radio/TV spots nationwide. The seven-year-old company is the creation of entrepreneur Chris Craft, this year’s Best Under-the-Radar Media Mogul. He added video capability to an existing audio operation and took both to the next level. “One of our goals was to grow locally,” says Craft, a native of Devon and a Villanova University graduate. “We wound up growing nationally.”

Three quarters of Propulsion’s business comes from outside the Philadelphia area. “Whether it’s a jeweler in Austin or a car dealership in Orlando, we have to be ready to turn [the project] around in 24 hours—it’s the foundation of the organization,” says Craft.

For any given job, Propulsion may supply a single element (say, a voice-over) or produce the whole thing. Hired guns include voice and on-camera talent on call, and a core staff of video and audio producers who can shoot, edit and massage a spot into shape. Sophisticated hardware and humans man Propulsion’s unpretentious offices.

Propulsion’s parent was Paul Turner Productions, which specialized in audio services and featured voice-over talent Turner, whose big baritone handled, among other gigs, the segues and assorted bits on Infinity Broadcasting’s Howard Stern radio show. Craft was selling advertising for Infinity’s local radio station WYSP-FM in the 1990s and became friendly with Turner, who eventually sold him the business assets in January 2003. Craft’s name for his new company matched both his level of energy and the momentum of the industry while reflecting the addition of in-house video operations.

It wasn’t the first time Craft had acted on a big idea. His plan to mass-produce then-West Chester inventor Garrett Brown’s Skycam and encase it in an advertising shell (a “flying Coke can,” Craft says) fell short of acquiring the necessary financial support just before patents expired.

But Propulsion Media was on firmer footing. Craft retained employees from Turner Productions, added account coordinators to smooth service delivery, and nurtured the future by hiring interns likely to become employees. General manager Corey Dissin, who stayed on after the business changed hands, knows all phases of the work and the competitive realities. “It’s a tough business,” says Dissin. “Sometimes I become the de facto enforcer.”

Other times he’s riding herd over quality control and “managing personalities”—both clients and the talent. Meanwhile, the boss stokes Propulsion’s online marketing campaign and, even at this stage, is not averse to making cold calls. “I like to get my hands dirty with the sales process,” says Craft.

He also likes to see his company providing a litmus test for the general economy. Advertising tends to be “ahead of the curve,” explains Craft, adding that automotive spending—a significant chunk of Propulsion’s business—has been trending higher since this past September.

Most of all, though, Craft likes a company on the move. Long-term goals include an increased presence in infomercials, Web-related video and corporate training videos, plus an increasingly motivated workforce and, of course, happy customers.

“We continue to grow,” says Craft. “Owning a business has been fulfilling a dream of mine.”

—Jim Waltzer

To learn more, visit promedialabs.com. To view Chris Craft’s personal favorites, click here.

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