Millennial Media Company Fusion Turns to the Ad World to Find Its New Creative Leader

Saatchi & Saatchi veteran Stephen Leps will oversee advertising

This week, Adweek asked whether agencies are "glamorous enough" to attract creatives from the film industry. On the media side, the equation is reversed: Fusion recently turned to the advertising world to find its first creative lead in ad veteran Stephen Leps.

Leps most recently served as executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi New York, where he oversaw campaigns for such clients as Luvs and Walmart. He will be a vp and ecd at Fusion, reporting directly to svp and chief strategy officer Boris Gartner.

During his nearly two decades in the advertising industry, Leps, a Canadian native, has held top creative positions at Taxi, Leo Burnett Chicago and zig (which is now part of Crispin Porter + Bogusky). In the new role, he will oversee all of Fusion's creative marketing efforts across television, digital, social media and live events.

"I love that Fusion can speak to millennials in an authentic and inclusive way," said Leps, calling his new employer "a company that has an incredible editorial team creating informative, entertaining and provocative content people are passionate about."

Much like Vice, Gawker and BuzzFeed, Fusion aims to monetize a young audience with the help of its in-house branded content studio, and it's not the first time the company has turned to the advertising side of the media equation. When Alex Bogusky announced the launch of his "social impact agency platform" Fearless in March, along with fellow ad veterans Dagny Scott and Leslie Freeman, Fusion served as the project's sponsor and distributor—because nothing gets brands' attention like the possibility of reaching 25 million young culturally savvy Americans every month.

Gartner said, "Fusion has a growing, diverse and loyal audience spanning multiple platforms, and Stephen has proven himself as a storyteller who understands how to reach young people with creative campaigns they will respond to." He added, "Fusion's relationship with its audience is based on understanding and trust, which drives deeper engagements across all our platforms," implying that Leps will help extend this trust to the company's sponsored content as well as its editorial work.  

Launched by Disney–ABC and Univision in 2013 as a brand fit for young, English-speaking Hispanic-Americans, Fusion has since expanded its target audience to include all multicultural millennials. 

Last fall, the company turned heads when it hired a slew of reporters, editors and producers from more well-established companies including Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, Kevin Roose of New York Magazine, Felix Salmon of Reuters, Jezebel co-founder Anna Holmes, Kashmir Hill of Forbes and Univision's Jorge Ramos. Last December, the company also signed former NBC News editorial director Hillary Frey, who spoke to Adweek in April regarding her plans to create "a new generation of news junkies."

Fusion's biggest recent headlines stemmed from a possibly misguided attempt to poke fun at BuzzFeed and from Ramos himself, who was kicked out of a Donald Trump news conference in August for daring to ask the nascent presidential candidate about his proposed immigration policies.

In a memo celebrating the company's second anniversary last month, chief executive Isaac Lee told staffers that "we are reaching our target audience and growing at a faster pace than many of our competitors." Since its first-quarter relaunch, Fusion.net has tripled its digital audience—and in October, the company signed a contract to create TV content in partnership with African-American news site The Root.

Experts expect the U.S. Hispanic population to double by 2050 to more than 100 million. Fusion aspires to be a top choice in media for this newer, more diverse generation—and by expanding its advertising team, the company hopes to offer more brands paid access to that crucial demographic.