Pitching Hard BuzzFeed in Cannes

     Jon Steinberg, president of BuzzFeed, pitches fast and hard. The first time I met him, post-midnight at BuzzFeed’s party on Le Rooftop, overlooking the Mediterranean, I felt the need to get him a drink. The idea that one could relax in Cannes, that the wee hours were a time for friendly chatter, or that pitches, if they must be pitched, are best served with a little butter—none of this seemed to have occurred to him. “Are you going to write something about this?” he asked. “I mean, are you going to mention it?” And then, almost immediately, “You know, you and Jonah” [Peretti, co-founder of BuzzFeed] “should get together and talk.”

     I suggested I call them tomorrow to see about a time.

     “Hey, why don’t we just do it now? How about 3:45 tomorrow, right here?”

     Peretti, now in his late 30s, is a minor hero in New York City media for bearing the “co-founder of Huffington Post” badge and for having been a first mover in the creation of “viral” content. At lunch the following day, Steinberg tried to convince me that Peretti coined the word. Peretti emitted a signature high-pitch, closed-teeth laugh: “I didn’t coin the word ‘viral,’” he said. “I mean, I was doing things that people called ‘viral’ very early on.” (In 2006, The New York Times said he was a “viral marketing hot dog.”)

     In terms of personality, Peretti is the giddily nervous marijuana to Steinberg’s anxious cocaine. “He’s more aggressive and works faster, I’m a little more contemplative and work a little slower,” Peretti told me after Steinberg left the table. “He’s more gregarious, I’m a little bit less social.” This was certainly true the night before. On Le Rooftop, after a rather bleak comedy routine with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman—a terribly grating take on the Borscht Belt brought to sully the Riviera (she had to yell at all the people ignoring her)—Peretti was all calm and relaxation. He had even decided to go through the week of networking without a cell phone. For the formal, recorded lunch at the Carlton, however, he walked the Steinberg line and pitched equally hard.

     The problem was that there wasn’t anything to pitch. BuzzFeed is a website that “tracks the Web’s obsessions in real time” by allowing users to share their feelings on user-, editor-, and brand-generated content—it has been that since Peretti started it two years ago as a side project while at Huffington Post. The 53 minutes that surround that description are, like the visit to Cannes, an aggressive appeal to advertisers from two people who don’t seem totally confident in the competitive advantage of their product. Thirteen brands are listed among BuzzFeed’s “past campaigns”—JetBlue, Coca-Cola, Samsung—many of which posted content once and then never again. (In an email response to this post, Steinberg wrote, "We have 13 case studies on the site, but we've done 60+ campaigns, had many repeat buys, and done millions of dollars in revenue this year.")

Topics: social

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