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Testing savvy new ways to say: ‘Hey, look at me!’

Young entrepreneurs push marketing’s edge

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By Natalie Southwick
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2010

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Four young entrepreneurs — three recent college graduates and one student — own and run five businesses from a single office on Commonwealth Avenue. It’s an unconventional operation for any group of business owners, much less one where the average age is 21. This summer it got even odder: They started filming an online reality series about their day-to-day dealings as a way to draw attention to their companies.

“We thought the best way to learn is just to go out and actually film what we’re doing,’’ said Alex Hodara, one of the stars of the show, “Making Moves,’’ which already has three episodes on YouTube and a fourth scheduled to go up next Friday. “We think it’s really going to open doors for us.’’ He and his colleagues see the show as a way to increase their profile — attracting potential clients, employees, and a wider audience.

With the job market showing limited signs of recovery, recruiters say they’re seeing increasing numbers of job-seekers and entrepreneurs who employ unusual methods to attract attention to their businesses or themselves. From tweets to targeted networking, every online action can be a promotional opportunity, and tech-savvy types — especially the youngest ones — are taking advantage of every tool at their disposal. And for many of them, it seems to be working.

“It’s a completely different creative job market,’’ said David Honig, managing director at MarketSearch, a Boston-based recruitment firm specializing in marketing and advertising jobs. “This is definitely the wave of the future.’’

According to Honig, such self-promotional campaigns are increasingly appearing along with — or in place of — traditional resumes. He has seen applicants craft resumes that resemble press releases. Another used Facebook connections to land a six-figure job.

“It’s not a passive job search in any way, shape or form, so the more creative you can be and the more you can stand out, the better success you’ll have,’’ Honig said.

In March 2009, Jamie Varon was just another college graduate searching for a job in San Francisco. She dreamed of working for Twitter, but a recommendation from a Google employee and a personal delivery of cookies to the Twitter offices hadn’t yielded so much as a phone call. So she did what any creative 23-year-old would do: She started a blog.

“I thought, what’s the only way to get noticed?’’ said Varon, 25. “I didn’t know how else to get attention. I just thought, ‘Twitter should hire me — dot-com.’ ’’

That night, Varon sat down to design twittershouldhireme.com, sending out an inaugural tweet at 6 a.m. By the afternoon, the site had gone viral.

“I didn’t expect the response I got at all,’’ she said. “It was a perfect example of how Twitter is a medium for getting attention.’’

Within two days, more than 10,000 people had viewed Varon’s website (a few of them created copycat versions for themselves, aimed at Facebook and Google). Varon landed that coveted lunch meeting with Twitter, but by then it was too late.

“I didn’t really want to work for them anymore,’’ she said. “I already had an audience, and I thought I should capitalize on it for myself.’’

Varon used the publicity from her online campaign to start her own web design company, less than a month after Twitter Should Hire Me was born.

“Everyone wants to differentiate themselves, but now, with the Internet, there’s so much more opportunity to do that,’’ she said. “People know if they work hard and do something interesting, they can have an audience. It just feels like we have a lot more control over our future.’’

As with early adopters of many tech trends, those using such creative measures are often quite young.

“I’ve been watching trends on the Internet and pursuing small businesses since third grade,’’ said Jonathan Manzi, president and founder of Vintage Network, which manages online advertising and marketing. Manzi, 19, a Beverly native, founded Vintage five years ago. Though most college sophomores don’t run companies, Manzi sees the same social media awareness in many of his peers.

“If we look at the type of people doing this, it’s predominantly the student demographic, who have grown up with the technology,’’ he said. “Not only can they differentiate themselves socially, but also professionally.’’

Sometimes, the two overlap. Hodara, 22, created the Hodara Real Estate Group during his junior year at Boston University; in less than two years, he says, the company has earned $300,000 in revenue. Now a graduate, Hodara spends most of his time in the office the brokerage shares with the four other businesses featured on the show “Making Moves’’: a property management company, a real estate licensing academy, a sustainable building development company, and a record label.

Hodara, who owns or co-owns all five entities, said a reality show was always part of the plan. “I started thinking it would be really cool to record all this stuff we’re doing,’’ he said. “But when I started the company I didn’t have the money to get a film crew, so I waited until I finally had enough, and here we are.’’

It is a film crew of oneJon Hyatt, 21, who joined the group in May and almost immediately began spending 12-hour days in the office with them.

“We’ll just shoot whenever we have the time,’’ he said of the group’s production schedule. “We don’t really have set plans as far as what we want to do with the show. We’re just kind of going with it.’’

So far, they believe they’re going in the right direction. The series is attracting some attention — a guest appearance by local rapper Sam Adams helped the second episode get more than 38,000 views in its first week. The show was just supposed to be for fun, the guys insist, but they aren’t hiding from the attention, either.

“We didn’t go in with the intention for it to be another form of marketing or advertising, but I think it’s really starting to pay off,’’ said Julian Jung, 20, a junior at Northeastern and the Hodara Real Estate Group’s leasing manager. Ideally, he said, they hope to get the show picked up by a television network.

But they’re only willing to make so many changes for the sake of publicity. A few weeks ago the team met with a casting director, who recommended haircuts, more gym time, and cutting two of the four guys out of the show entirely. They told him they weren’t interested.

“This is a real reality show,’’ Hyatt said. “So many people want to see the typical ‘Jersey Shore’ reality show, but that’s not what we started with, and it’s not what we’re going to finish with. This is just shooting these guys how they are.’’

Natalie Southwick can be reached at nsouthwick@globe.com.