Tech Profile: Column Five

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting

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data-visualizationWhat is Column Five, and how did you and your team get started in this field?

Column Five is a creative agency located in Newport Beach, California. We specialize in infographic design, data visualization and digital PR.

Due to our specialization in not only the creation but also the distribution of visual content, we often work on brands’ marketing efforts. We also work a lot with companies’ proprietary data to uncover interesting stories and tell it in a visual way.

Jason Lankow and Josh Ritchie, my two co-founders, and I started a small online publication in 2007, and we really enjoyed creating great content for it as a creative outlet. I have always been drawn to design, and we all have strong backgrounds in writing. We began to experiment with creating and distributing infographics and other visual content. Others took notice and hired us to help develop content strategy. Our first big client was Mint.com back in 2008, where we introduced them to infographics to help build their blog strategy. From there, we have had the opportunity to work with many great companies, from startups to global brands on a variety of exciting projects.

How should the marketing/advertising industry utilize Column Five to create better end-results for its clients’ content and marketing strategies?

In the last 5 to 10 years, we have all seen the shift from brands talking at consumers to brands needing to engage their consumers. Infographics are a great tool for this, as they enable companies to start a conversation that is not just about the brand. They can provide something of value to the consumer by visualizing information in a clear and concise way. Visual content is not only more appealing, but it is also more shareable, which can lead to the organic spread of the message.

What trends and changes in the market led you to realize that Column Five would fill a void?

In 2007 and 2008, social news sites like Digg were driving unprecedented traffic to the sites featured on their front page. Savvy marketers were looking to create content that might garner the attention of these sites’ users to propel it to success. This content took the form of snackable “top 10” lists and clever collections of quotes. Infographics provided a medium where content could be easily digested, but they also contained information of substance. People are drawn to content that both informs and entertains.

Today, more companies are tracking data in all forms. Many are using this to inform their decisions, but these companies need help leveraging it in external communications. This need has been at the core of much of our work over the past three years — helping a brand find interesting stories to tell that establish it as a thought leader in its industry by showcasing its data and the insights that can be derived from it.

How does Column Five work with content publishers and PR outlets to increase the exposure of an infographic?

We have been able to build really strong relationships with journalists at large and small publications by offering them interesting, well-designed visual content that they can feature. These graphics can be featured alone, but they are often a great complement to a topic on which they are already writing. The key to building these relationships is that we are always coming to them with something of value, not “pitching” them on a branded message or asking for a favor. There is no pressure from our end. We see them as partners that should see a mutual benefit to the relationship.

What are some of the challenges associated with creating an interactive or animated infographics piece? What are some of the opportunities in the growing trend of animated infogaphics?

Interactive graphics or animated motion graphics just provide different mediums to be able to share a message. Interactive graphics are an inherently explorative experience, enabling users to drive their own experience, seek out the information they would like to see and often cross-analyze data. Conversely, animated motion graphics provide a narrative experience, walking the viewer through a fixed script. Both have their benefits, but it is important that the medium is appropriate for the message.

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Both of these formats require different areas of specialty, namely developers for interactives and animators for motion graphics. This adds more steps to the production process and requires greater coordination between team members on the project. It is important that everyone working on the project is aware of the considerations that will impact each others’ jobs in order to ensure a smooth workflow and great finished product.

Why should agencies outsource infographic design to a specialty firm like Column Five? What skills and expertise can you bring to help a company understand the data, story and publishing opportunities available?

Although we typically work directly with our clients, we also work with a number of advertising and PR agencies to help create infographics for their clients. Our team specializes in parsing data sets, researching and crafting a strong narrative for infographics. While this is something that can be learned, there are many mistakes that are easy for someone inexperienced to make. These include data visualization errors, incorrect volume or format of content and inappropriate tone. As a team, we have worked on thousands of these projects over the years, so we are very familiar with what it takes to make a great infographic.

Ross Crooks is a co-founder of Column Five, a leading creative agency specializing in infographics, data visualization and Digital PR. Together with his co-founders, Jason Lankow and Josh Ritchie, he is the co-author of the upcoming book, “Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling.” Column Five has worked with hundreds of clients in a broad range of industries, including GE, Intuit, Microsoft, Facebook, eBay and The World Bank. Their work has been featured in Fast Company, The Atlantic, TIME, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and GOOD Magazine. Ross speaks on the subject of infographics frequently, including recent talks at The Federal Reserve and AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), and he teaches a course on Visualization of Information at Columbia University in New York.

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