GOLD Profile: Alumnus Adapts Advertising to Digital Age

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Jeff Knauss ’07

Jeff Knauss ’07, co-founder of The Digital Hyve, a full service digital marketing agency based in Syracuse, N.Y., always knew he wanted to work in advertising.

“I wasn’t like most people,” said Knauss, a former member of the Oswego Alumni Association GOLD Leadership Council. “I wasn’t annoyed by commercials. I always thought it was interesting how an ad can change someone’s behavior, either consciously or subconsciously.”

Knauss earned a bachelor’s in public relations from Oswego, which included a semester in Nice, France, where he met his wife, Heta, who was studying abroad from her home in Finland. After graduation, Knauss worked as a television advertising account executive in Rochester, N.Y., and as TV sales manager in Syracuse, N.Y. He decided to transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing by co-founding The Digital Hyve in 2014 with business partner, Jacob Tanner ’12.

Can you give an example of a digital marketing campaign?

We did an ad campaign for Destiny USA during March Madness when the Elite 8 teams were at The [Carrier] Dome. They saw a unique opportunity to target people who were in town to watch the games but didn’t necessarily know Syracuse well and everything it has to offer. So we targeted people currently traveling; that live at least 100 miles away from Syracuse, who were currently in a 30 mile radius of Destiny USA and were fans of the teams that were playing. It was a specific campaign with an extremely targeted audience and it produced great results.

Were you intimidated leaving a steady job to start your own business?

Jeff: Absolutely. My wife was staying home with my son Max, who was only 3 months old at the time. Plus, I was offered a promotion at the television station the day I left. I ultimately decided to bet on myself. I had a gut feeling that we could make it work. I saw how talented and dedicated Jake was. At first, we weren’t making any money. If I didn’t take the risk then, I would always wonder “what if?” It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come over the last couple years.

Is the competition stiff in Syracuse?

Jeff:  There are a few companies doing what we do, but I don’t feel like we are too competitive. Our entire business is based on referrals. Because we specialize in digital marketing, we’re able to collaborate with other local traditional ad agencies and media companies. We actually share space in Franklin Square with Mooney Marketing Group, to whom we owe a lot of our success.

What’s next for The Digital Hyve?

Jeff: We have a total of twelve folks right now, including designers, developers and people who focus specifically on social media marketing like Jessica Bagdovitz ’12. We’re hoping to be named in the top 500 of Inc. Magazine’s list of 5000 fastest growing companies in 2016.

You come back to campus regularly, most recently as speaker at the December 2015 Commencement Eve Dessert Reception. What is it about Oswego that keeps you coming back?

Jeff: I have distinct memories of guest speakers talking in my classes when I was a student. I loved hearing from people who were in the industry giving real advice. I didn’t have a job coming out of school and I remember how stressful that was. Giving advice to students, to help alleviate that feeling and tell them “it’s going to be okay,” is my way of giving back I guess.

Anyone in particular?

Jeff: At my dessert reception, Frank Palumbo ’83, VP at Nielsen, spoke to our graduating class and after I went up and introduced myself to him and his wife. We still keep in touch. Also, Rick Yacobush ’77 and Lou Borrelli ’77 have been role models of mine.

You were selected to CNY Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty list in 2014, at only 28 years old. What was that like?

Jeff: That was amazing. When I read through the names of the people who won that year, I was honored to be a part of such a great group of people.

How did your family end up in the Food Bank of Central New York commercial?

Jeff: I wanted to get involved because I believe that everyone, regardless of geographic location or economic status, deserves to be able to eat food and drink clean water. I started on a development committee with the Food Bank of Central New York and then joined the Board of Directors in 2014.

—Tyler Edic ’13

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