The Web 2.0 virtuoso
Who: Amanda Congdon
Brand identity: News and commentary for the Internet generation
Brand extensions: Video blog "Starring Amanda Congdon"; weekly ABC News vlog; an upcoming HBO comedy show; advertising pitches.
With little more than a laptop and a camera, Amanda Congdon has become the Jon Stewart of the Web 2.0 set. The struggling actress found her niche anchoring three-minute video blogs for Rocketboom way back in 2004, otherwise known as the pre-YouTube era. Within two years her snarky newscasts became a must-see, attracting as many as 300,000 viewers and paving the way for the Ze Franks and Justin.tvs of the world. Thanks to her shrewd maneuvering of multiple media channels, this Web celebrity has parlayed her online success into a career of still-unknown proportions.
Congdon started out by following chance wherever it took her: a low-level advertising job, a bit part in the reality show The Restaurant, modeling hats for catalogs. Then she answered a cryptic Craigslist ad seeking a host and co-writer for a daily Web news show. She earned $50 an episode to tap on an old-school keyboard and deliver sassy commentary on quirky news items and Internet culture. By May 2006, Rocketboom was pulling in an average of $20,000 a month in advertising revenue.
"What I saw was a fresh voice online," says veteran media critic and BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis. "And it's more than just how she performs on camera. She's a good example of what we're all doing in building brands."
By the spring of 2006, Congdon was eyeing bigger opportunities. L.A. bound, she signed with the Endeavor talent agency in May. But then a dispute with Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron left her off the air for 12 days. On the 13th day, she reappeared on her own video blog, declaring herself "Amanda UnBoomed" -- in other words, off the show. A very public spat with Baron followed, as well as a lot of free publicity as the blogosphere chronicled the row and the New York Times and Fox News ran stories on her departure.
Congdon is one of the few Web 2.0 personalities who've built careers both online and off. By December she had a weekly news vlog for ABC. Then HBO came calling, and she signed on to do her own comedy show for TV and the Web. Congdon jumped at the opportunities but insisted that both deals leave room for "Starring Amanda Congdon," her personal vlog and yet another avenue for her musings. She also inked deals with Dove and DuPont to appear in online infotainment spots.
The result: She now has her hand in news, entertainment, and advertising -- a concept that has rankled some fans. But Congdon couldn't care less. It's all part of her plan to be a brand that no one can quite pin down. "I don't have a manager, and I don't want one," she says. "There's no one better than me to manage myself because there's no road map."