'Business Insider' Taps Ad Industry Insider To Lead Agency Sales, Remains Startuppy

For more than five years, venture capital-backed Business Insider has been disrupting the business news publishing business. Now it wants to disrupt the way business news publications sell to Madison Avenue, bringing in Sheila Buckley, a longtime Time Inc. and Weather Channel sales executive with strong ties to both big agencies and marketers, to help.

The publication, which began as a blog and news aggregator founded by former Wall Street dot.com wunderkind Henry Blodget, claims to have overtaken its mainstream business news competitors -- most notably Dow Jones’ Wall Street Journal -- in unique visitor reach.

Now it’s going after their share of advertising budgets, leveraging all the tools in its arsenal, massive reach, a native and creative services content “studio,” state-of-the-art programmatic technology, and most importantly, a lot of buzz, momentum and goodwill.

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Madison Avenue execs have always loved challenger publishing brands -- SPIN and Spy in the 80s, Mashable, BuzzFeed and Vice more recently. Now it’s Business Insider’s time to break into the big agency media deals to put some corporate revenue where its momentum is.

“Being a startup that disrupts a category is a great story, but sometimes it carries a badge of, ‘Hey, they’re a startup and they don’t have everything they need to get it done,” says Chief Revenue Officer Peter Spande, who brought Buckley in to overcome that objection.

Spande who who has been representing BI since it grew out of the roots of precursor blog Silicon Alley Insider -- first as its chief rep at Federated Media and nearly four years ago as its in-house sales chief -- says he is recruiting big name talent like Buckley “ahead of revenue” in anticipation that building the organization will lead to a greater share of mainstream advertising budgets.

With more than 80 million global monthly uniques -- about 45 million in the U.S. alone -- Spande says BI has reached the point where it can get its foot in the door of big agencies and advertisers. Now he says it wants to capitalize on a trend among big shops to “do business with fewer companies.”

Due to the increasing fragmentation of the media marketplace -- thanks in no small part of the kind of VC-funded disruption of digital startups like BI -- Spande says his team’s intelligence indicates that big agencies want to do fewer, bigger deals with a handful of the most meaningful players. That’s where Buckley comes in.

A veteran of Time Inc. and The Weather Channel, Buckley has spent the past several years immersing herself in startup cultures too, running sales for Vibrant Media and Criteo before joining BI as senior vice president-sales. She says her job is to bridge those two worlds, leveraging BI’s reach, as well as an impressive array of technology and creative services to build deeper relationships and more meaningful corporate deals.

On the technology front, Spande says BI’s programmatic sales now account for nearly 30% of its total revenue. Within that, he says private marketplace deals have been the fastest-growing segment and now account for about half its programmatic revenue. On the creative services front, he says BI Studios offers a suite of services including ad creation, native formats and even “content marketing.”

Where those distinctions lie, he says, are often in the eye of the advertiser or agency, but from a reader’s point-of-view he says the lines between BI’s pure-play editorial product and its advertiser-created products are always clearly delineated.

He says demand for the studio product has exceeded expectations and that the unit’s revenues are up “155%” year-over-year and the number of projects it is producing have doubled. Buckley’s job, he says, falls somewhere between the studio’s art and its programmatic technology’s science, building scalable relationships with the biggest clients.

“Agencies are telling us they want to work with fewer publishers,” he explains, adding, “As you do that, the stakes go up. The type of sales change. You go from more of a transactional sale to much more of a strategic sale and the number of decision-makers increases dramatically. We wanted someone who has been to that rodeo.”

From Buckley’s point of view, BI represents the best of both her worlds. She says he prefers working in startup cultures, but she likes the resources and scale that BI now has to leverage.

“From an operational perspective,” Spande says, “we’re still very lean and startuppy.”
3 comments about "'Business Insider' Taps Ad Industry Insider To Lead Agency Sales, Remains Startuppy".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, August 31, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    Interesting. So the "solution" to audience fragmentation is to deal with fewer publishers. But what about reach? Or doesn't that matter as long as the work load of buying media is kept in check?

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 31, 2015 at 3:44 p.m.

    @Ed: Apparently, it's one of the solutions. I've been hearing this call for simplifying who agencies and clients do business with for a while now. Not just from media suppliers, but technology too. I think agencies and clients are overwhelmed by the number of options they have and they're also worried that they may miss the next new thing if they don't consider new ones. It's a real paradox and I think the interim solution is to do business with fewer, trusted partners. It's what's happening in the programmatic marketplace vis a vis so-called "private marketplace" deals in which publishers and agenies agree to pre-negotiated deals but do it programmatically. I'm not sure there's a long-term solution, because complexity and fragmentation are only likely to grow, not contract.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 31, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.

    I agree with you, Joe, as I'm hearing the same kind of talk. The problem seems concentrated mainly in digital media, for now, but I expect it to show up in TV---first spot TV, then network/cable/syndication---and magazines as well. With advertiser CFOs crunching the media buying shops on fees, this is the inevitable response but, in the long run, as buying "efficiency" continues to trump  zero-based, media planning, one wonders what the impact will be on marketing ROI?

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