Amanda Kinsey is a woman after my own heart: She’s passionate about and invested in the power of stories and the importance of telling them. After working at the Today show for over a decade, she decided to strike out on her own and create Electric Yolk Media, a creative production company based in Williamsburg where top-notch nonfiction content is king. When I asked Amanda if she herself has a story she was proudest of, she said, “I think what I’m proudest of is starting this company by myself. It took awhile to get it all pieced together, but it feels very good to be an entrepreneur.”
So why don’t you describe what you do and how you got there.
I started a production company a year ago called Electric Yolk Media.
Where does that name come from?
It takes the name from farm fresh eggs. They have these incredible yolks—they are electric in color, and they are incredibly rich. When you bake with them everything rises better, everything tastes better, and I liked the idea of something seemingly ordinary being extraordinary. That’s sort of the basis of every great story. What we specialize in doing is nonfiction content for broadcast and for digital. I was a producer with the Today show for over ten years. I did stories on everything you could possibly imagine, from Presidential elections to celebrities to cooking to lifestyle, and I specialized in a series called American Story, which were five minute little documentaries about people who were doing amazing things.
Give me an example.
One of my favorites was about a guy named Joe Ades, who has since passed away. Joe used to sell potato peelers at Union Square. He was very, very good at selling potato peelers. He was English, he’d been born in Manchester before World War II and grew up in the streets, which is where he learned how to hock things. He was so highly successful at this—he sold literally millions and millions of potato peelers—that when I met him, he was in his late 70s, and he lived in a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue, and he liked to hang out at the Sherry Netherland. He still sold potato peelers in Union Square seven days a week, eight hours a day.
Can you break that down for me? How does that work?
Joe had an interesting philosophy about life. He saw the street as his bank. When he needed money, he went out and sold potato peelers for $5 apiece. The most important thing was his pitch process. He was a great salesman. He would set up in Union Square, and he’d be wearing his custom-made suits, and he had this fantastic English accent—he sounded a little like Sean Connery. These crowds would gather, and they were incredibly diverse. You’d have every age group, every walk of life, all listening to what Joe had to say. He used to offer a deal where you could buy four potato peelers and get one free, and he had this line where he’d ask, “Why do you need five potato peelers when they last a lifetime?” and then he’d pause and say, “because you have four friends, that’s why.” People would get their money out, and you’d ask them, “Do you like potatoes?” and they’d say, “No, but I have to buy one of these potato peelers.” It was all about Joe, and how Joe as a person was relatable. I’ve never met anyone like him. I asked him once about his secret to success, and he said, “Never underestimate a small amount of money gathered by hand.”
And from there, how did you end up starting your own company?
I saw that there was a lot of change happening in the industry, and one of the things I think is sort of interesting is with digital, there’s now this demand for nonfiction narratives.
Why nonfiction in particular?
Social media has produced a desire for more transparency. And transparency has made people want to more authentically relate to you, to your brand and to your company. There’s a place for traditional advertising, but there’s also a place for those real stories. It’s a really wonderful opportunity for brands to relate not just to a client base but to an audience base.
Right. To establish a real relationship with people.
If a brand is a lifestyle brand, it works very well. It also does very well with causes. I think everyone has a story. There are a lot of really wonderful stories out there. I think the growth of the particular kind of storytelling is what inspired me to start this company.
What kinds of projects have you been working on?
We recently finished a digital marketing project for Katie Couric. She’s now on the board of a charter school in Harlem, Harlem Village Academies. They hired us to do a five-minute digital marketing piece on the school, which was really a very inspiring story. These are kids who are breaking down barriers every single day. To see the work that they’re doing, and the success that they’re having was really a lot of fun. I also do traditional documentaries. This past summer I was filming a documentary on fly-fishing for tarpon on the west coast of Florida. We were in Boca Grande for the month of June, and we were profiling a fellow by the name of Anton Barrington, who is a tarpon-fishing guide who was born and raised in South Africa. Tarpon fishing is all catch and release, so he’s playing a part in the conservation of these incredible fish that in their own right are a wonderful story. They can live to be 80 years old and grow to 200 pounds and are this kind of prehistoric blast from the past. I also just finished a one-hour documentary for PBS, this series that they do called Treasures of New York.
What are the treasures in question?
Treasures of New York profiles iconic institutions around New York—the Natural History Museum, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, etc. Our project was the history of Columbia University. So it’s 260 years of history in an hour. It has been really, interesting. It parallels the 260-year history of New York City, so it’s the 1700s up to today.
What was your favorite thing about doing that project?
Full disclosure: I went to Barnard and Columbia Business School, so I love Columbia anyway, but what I really appreciated was how many interesting people had come through Columbia and what a dedication there was to supporting new ideas. For example, Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the country’s key founding fathers but also one of the key people in forming this city, was a Columbia graduate. The Beat poets all met on campus. It always comes back to the stories—to the human side of things. The reasons that stories work is that it’s how we like to relate to each other. It’s how we connect to each other, it’s a frame of reference for one another. The best stories are about people. Whether it’s traditional documentary work, or it’s branded content, when it comes to nonfiction stories, there are common themes that you see again and again, and one of those is that we want to be inspired, we want to feel that we can change the world. When you see other people doing it, it’s a really wonderful, motivating force.