Joakim Leijon was sent to New York to set up shop for a Pronto Communications, a Swedish PR agency specializing in “word-of-mouth” marketing. He arrived with his girlfriend, found an apartment, signed a two-year lease and then poof – the market went bust. It was the autumn of 2008, and Pronto pulled the plug on their plans. But Joakim decided to stay and fight, which resulted in Whispr Group, a social media agency.
“I was pissed and wanted to prove them wrong, prove everybody wrong,” he says as we meet him at the Frying Pan, a barge/boat restaurant on Manhattan’s lower West Side. “So I started Whispr in January 2009, and tried to find clients. I went to many, many meetings where I usually was told that the idea was great, but that this was not a good time, budget wise. Why don’t you come back in 2011?”
He couldn’t afford to wait that long, but fortunately his new agency got a break with a commission-based project for a Swedish fashion brand in early 2009 “We found them 1,000 fashion bloggers, and could provide them with advance photos and information. We researched the web thoroughly, sent emails to blogs we thought were suitable and built relationships with them. The model worked and we increased their blog exposure by 1,000 percent in 8 months.” This led to a long-term relationship with the client.
Today, Whispr has about twenty clients, mostly Swedish companies or companies based in Sweden like H&M, VisitSweden, and the Walt Disney Company Nordic. Joakim says that he uses his Swedish roots and style in the U.S., and finds that it is appreciated. “People tell me that they trust us,” he says, adding “we are always honest with our clients contrary to some of our competitors who regularly manipulate numbers.”
Whispr has an office in the Starrett-Lehigh building, a modernist architectural Manhattan landmark on the west side between 26th and 27th street. The company has ten employees, of which eight in the U.S. and two in Sweden. It recently hired away Jerry Silfwer from Springtime, a hot name at one of Sweden’s leading PR firms. He joins the New York office for 6-8 months, and will then return to help the company build its Sweden office.
The company spends a lot of time following and analyzing social media and the technology behind it so that it stays on top of the game. Content wise, it focuses on fashion and beauty, but this could change in the future as its client base grows and broadens.