When Joe Corbe started 1631 Digital at his kitchen table a little over four years ago, he could not have envisioned the company as it is today. Not only has 1631 Digital morphed into a data company, a public affairs team, an online marketing company and a full service ad agency, but they will be launching two more endeavors in 2021. “One is a loyalty program for restaurants, retail and destinations,” says Corbe. “The other is a national news website.”
But when Corbe started his company little of this was on his mind. “My background is from the publishing side of the fence,” says Corbe, “primarily working for big newspaper groups as an ad director for both the Washington Times and at The Baltimore Sun.” He could see the transition to digital coming. So instead of watching the train go by without him, he jumped on and started 1631 Digital. “I wanted to bring a more logical strategy to companies, brands, services and campaigns,” says Corbe.
But it was a baptism by fire. “When you come out of the gate with only yourself, you end up doing things you really didn’t think you could do,” says Corbe. Building his own website, establishing the legal entities of the company, doing the invoicing, all things to get the business up and running and to keep it going was on his plate. “It wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Corbe, “but it was definitely the most rewarding.”
Eventually he brought others on board with him to take over some of the other duties in running the company. When 1631 Digital outgrew Corbe’s kitchen table, an office was opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. and in Annapolis, Maryland. More workers came on board as the company grew into a full service advertising agency offering a creative team and website builders to their geotargeting and digital advertising expertise.
The expansion really took off when Rickie Roberts came on board as Chief Operating Officer in 2019. Her background in all types of media sales as well as her experience in training, leadership and management helped grow the company. “She really allowed us to scale up our team,” says Corbe, “as well as set up the fundamental infrastructure of the back end to our business.” They now have about 25 workers in different aspects of the business.
From the start they quickly realized that data was the key to everything. At the time there were many media groups, ad agencies and digital shops in existence, but they were using the same systems they had used for years with outdated data forms and were getting mediocre and unmeasurable results. “We saw that people knew they needed a digital strategy,” says Corbe, “they just weren’t sure if any of this stuff really works.”
So 1631 Digital was created to give a boutique experience, using multiple channels and approaches to find what works best for the client and then do more of that. “It’s not radical thinking,” says Corbe, “but most people would rather sell you something to make their goals rather than sell something that can help YOU reach your goals.”
The company really hit its stride with the Clinton/Trump election cycle in 2016. During the most recent elections they worked on multiple U.S. congressional races and attorney general races for both parties. They work with a number of advocacy groups such as The National Association of Broadcasters, the National Biodiesel Board, The Lincoln Project and others. “We were able to use fresh data to connect with voters and mobilize,” says Corbe. But elections do not happen every year.
“We moved into business to consumer campaigns utilizing this tech approach,” says Corbe. They looked for the kind of industries for which this strategy would work well. “We settled on luxury because it would give us a chance to find very nuanced audiences to reach out to and connect with, much like the political,” says Corbe. They reached out to groups like Aston Martin, Bentley and Beneteau Yachts and worked on test campaigns to reach the client’s former, active and competitor customers and then to find look-a-like customers. “Each campaign was a success and we have been working with these accounts as clients ever since,” says Corbe.
They then moved into more general retail, service and brand accounts. They handled digital advertising and outreach for Goodwill of the Chesapeake, Foreman Wolf Restaurants, The Maryland Retail Association and hundreds of others. “Having our own data sources and the ability to create data based on our client’s needs gives us a significant edge when we deliver ad messages,” says Corbe.
Many businesses may be using outdated data forms because they are using a vendor who is purchasing data from a third party. This data could be well past its shelf life. “We can create fresh data that is relevant to our client,” says Corbe. In a business to customer case, they can ingest the client’s data to find their current customers online, they can retarget folks who have been located in their showrooms (or their competitor’s showrooms) and find the look-a-like customers to optimize the process. They can even go back in time and retarget mobile devices that were identified as being in certain areas with a relevant message.
These two major focuses of the company are now served by two different websites. Political advocacy is handled through www.1631digital.com. The advertising agency business is served by www.1631digitaladvertising.com.
“The growth we have experienced is pretty radical,” says Corbe. “It would have been an unrealistic statement [at the beginning] to think that we would be where we are now in such a short time without incurring any debt and operating in the black.” Each year they have been able to double what they did the previous year on both the political and the consumer sides of the business.
Corbe’s passion for advertising is apparent in his voice when he talks about 1631 Digital. “For so many years of my career when working for other people I was forced to sell things because your goals depend on it,” says Corbe, “but it was not necessarily the best thing for the people you are selling it to.” Feeling that was really a disservice, he has built 1631 Digital around figuring out what works best for a particular client and optimizing it. “If you are open and honest with people, say what you are going to do and then do it, you’ll be fine,” says Corbe. Being able to show their clients actual results definitely gives them an edge.
The most recent addition to Corbe’s areas of expertise has been the acquisition of Loyal Edge, a loyalty program company which he just bought and is getting ready to launch at the end of January. The office is located in Savannah, Georgia with a website at www.loyaledge.com. It helps their customers grow through the offering of loyalty programs customized for each business. Restaurants and coffee shops, and other retail and service areas, are currently being targeted. Loyal Edge will tailor a Loyalty Tablet Kiosk for each business and also help them grow through social media and reviews.
A new entity that will launch soon is a news website www.1631digitalNEWS.com, which will partner with a number of media sites, blogs and podcasts around the country to bring breaking U.S. news, entertainment, music and luxury audience news to subscribers.
Since starting 1631 Digital, Corbe admits he has not had much down time. He and his wife, Emily, love to travel, but between his work, and now the pandemic, they have not done much lately. The couple have three children, a grown daughter, Maeve, working at Miramax in Los Angeles, and two younger children who are adapting to online learning in high school: Hugh, who is a junior, and Paige, who is a sophomore. “They were playing sports, but that is shut down now too,” says Corbe. “But we do go to the beach a lot.”
Emily is a history teacher and they live on Kent Island, so it is not surprising that the name of the company comes from the date of the founding of Kent Fort in 1631, making it the third oldest settlement in the United States. “1631 was a long time ago, but that shows staying power,” says Corbe, “and that’s what I really wanted to accomplish.” I95 Sponsored Content.
Joe Corbe, President