- The Information just hired Spotify vet Chris Bowlby as its first VP of sponsorships and ad sales in a business-side expansion.
- The tech news publication has shunned traditional advertising, but sees a big opportunity to connect companies with its young executive readership.
- It’s also tapping Ashley McCollum, who ran BuzzFeed’s Tasty, to explore new ways of working with brands.
- The moves show how even hardcore subscription publications are diversifying their revenue to include advertising.
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Jessica Lessin, who bet big on high-priced subscriptions when she founded tech news site The Information in 2013, is now on a hiring tear to expand the business, including even advertising.
The Information just hired Chris Bowlby as its first VP of sponsorships and ad sales. His hire is part of a plan by The Information to double its business team to more than 14 over the next 12 months.
Lessin said she sees Bowlby — who was ad sales director at Spotify and also had sales roles at Flipboard, The New York Times and Time Inc. before that — as accelerating a business that’s already been growing at nearly 40% a year.
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Ninety percent of The Information’s revenue comes from subscribers that typically pay $400 a year, and Lessin has rejected the traditional digital advertising model,saying it devalues journalism. But The Information has sold different kinds of event sponsorships to more than 50 brands including Accenture, Goldman Sachs, and Johnson & Johnson,and it’s looking for other ways to let companies access its audience, through not just events but its newsletters, videos, and podcasts.
The Information’s audience: Young, successful
Lessin said the subscribers number in the “low tens of thousands.” She shared new information about the audience: Half are younger than 34 and are executives, and 18% are CEOs. One-third work at companies with more than 10,000 people.
“The high-level view is, brands are trying to reach our audience in lots of different ways,” she said. “We’re working with them on things beyond just a logo on stage. There’s a tremendous amount of runway because there’s a tremendous amount of businesses that want to deepen their connection with the Silicon Valley community. It’s all about finding opportunities that supplement the subscription business.”
The company also hired Erica Grijalva as VP of enterprise sales to sell group subscriptions to companies. It’s tapping ex-BuzzFeed exec Ashley McCollum as a consultant on new business opportunities, and is looking for a VP of marketing and head of subscription business.
The Information wants to take a page from BuzzFeed
McCollum was one of BuzzFeed’s longest serving employees and rose to general manager of its hugely popular food brand, Tasty, which spawned a line of cookbooks and cookware sold at Walmart. That experience might seem at odds with The Information’s tight focus on business journalism, but Lessin said she sees McCollum helping the publication look for new ways to get involved with companies and develop new franchises.
“Having built Tasty, she has a great understanding of how publications can work with brands,” Lessin said.
While other digital media companies have raised venture capital and in some cases, have struggled to meet investors’ lofty growth expectations, Lessin bootstrapped The Information and said it broke even two and a half years after it started in late 2013.
A lot of news publications have tried to pivot to subscriptions to supplement ad revenue, but few have developed meaningful businesses that way. The hire of an advertising exec might signal to some that after five years, The Information’s core subscription business is slowing down.
Lessin has never said exactly how many subscribers The Information has, but said the opposite is true.
“It’s accelerating,” she said. “Our subscription business is 90% of our revenue and will always be the vast majority of our revenue, but the community we built is very strong and there are a lot of opportunities to partner with brands.”
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