It was good because Web advertising was hot. There was some pressure, because Venture Capitalists, who had funded most of these companies, were expecting real revenue growth in the short term. One-year plans were considered too far-flung. What they cared about was how the numbers would be THIS quarter.
So, it was especially good because third-party advertising companies were assembling networks from among these sites. Companies such as DoubleClick, Real Media, and 24/7 Media would aggregate hundreds or even thousands of sites into channels, which their own global ad sales force would sell. Most of the sites themselves had little hope of putting together their own sales teams while also keeping their content fresh. But, the big networks would take care of that, serving the ads, managing the traffic, and simply writing checks. It was 1999 and as Dennis Hopper might have said, it was beautiful man.
Who cared that so many of the advertisers during the rise of the bubble were actually these born-on-the-Web companies themselves? Or that some of these companies had planned so badly in some cases that they spent thousands on lavish parties only a few months before missing payroll.
If you worked at one of these companies, you know how this felt. If you're still in the business, after all we've been though, then congratulate yourself. With only one of these "big three" ad networks still actually in business, times have definitely changed. What sites need today has more to do with managing their entire media asset than it does with simply selling ads. Even the major companies that used to manage the huge networks now position themselves more as full-service providers, with email, advertising, traffic, and other services all offered - even spec creative.
This full-service trend has spawned a new kind of media partner for special interest media sites. One of the reasons that some of these special interest sites have survived and why some are even thriving has to do with companies such as Empire Media. (www.empiremedia.com)
What does Empire Media do? Well, they aren't a third party ad server, and while they sell advertising and produce other media and monetization solutions for their clients, their model couldn't be further from that of the huge, old style ad serving companies. Some of you may be familiar with their magazine, which launched in April of 2002. But, while that's their flagship, it's just one of their businesses.
Take a look at the sorts of things they've done for one of their partner clients, called The Insiders (www.theinsiders.com). The Insiders is the largest independent sports network in the world. At 1.5 million unique visitors a month, with 150 million page views, The Insiders links to just about every major sports team among the professional ranks, as well as Division One College Basketball and Football, and hotshot high school and college recruiting sites. Chances are if you participate in a fantasy league, or you're an avid fan of one team or another, you've been on the Insiders' network of sites.
With a subscription model, and active loyalty from among you fantasy geeks out there, The Insiders should have been among those sites that weathered the crash of 2000 and came out on the other side, hale and hearty. Only, that's not how it how it happened. Struggling at the turn of the year, they needed a media partner that could help them monetize their database while also selling their advertising and increasing their traffic. Not only that, they needed someone who would work on a purely commission basis, with no minimums.
Enter Empire Media. In my June 12 column, I mentioned Empire as a company that manages their relationships with brands creatively, automating new revenue streams for marketers and media - without alienating consumers. Some of their co-registration deals net their branded site partners as much as $20K a month - for essentially adding a check box on their subscription page. But I keep hearing about them when I talk to publishers, and it turns out that co-registration type deals are just the tip of their iceberg. They seem to find new ways to make money for their partners beyond just that.
That's what they've done for partners like The Insiders - created revenue streams where none had existed. But, while Empire monetizes their partner's database with opt-in email marketing from brands like Dell and American Express, they also drive more traffic to the site through deals with a major search engine, while acting as a broker/reseller of this added inventory. Best of all, if you're The Insiders, it's all on the come. The deal is risk-free for the client.
The result? The Insiders is a big time success story, and still growing - with six figure deals in the pipeline and many happy marketing partners.
"The difference is that we see ourselves as more than just a sales force to our partners," said Chris Travers, CEO of Empire Media. "We try to be selective in the companies we work with, choosing only those that we see this kind of potential for growth. We're most interested in creative business development of the whole media enterprise, and that's a whole lot more than just selling banners and such."
A media veteran, Travers used to run Reuters' Television business for North and South America. Like most of his colleagues, he cut his media teeth on something other than the Web. Maybe there's something to that.