What are Jane Pratt, the celebrated editor of Jane and Sassy, and marketing guru Seth Godin (13 books and counting) doing working for the company that created those video overlay ads that YouTube eventually co-opted?
In fact, Pratt, Godin, the new media professor Clay Shirky and several other respected media authorities have been recruited to help forge a new identity for Say Media—the product of a merger between ad network VideoEgg (which sparred with YouTube back in 2007) and the blog-hosting company Six Apart. Last week, Pratt and company were introduced as headliners of the Say 100, a list of influential voices in 10 content verticals, including food, entertainment, style and technology.
The Say 100 marks the culmination of an unusual transformation for VideoEgg, which raised eyebrows last September when it acquired Six Apart, then ditched both brands and announced its intentions to become more of a true media company. And while an ad network plus a tool vendor doesn’t exactly seem to equal the next Yahoo, that’s what president Troy Young saw.
“We’re taking the step to become a modern media company,” said Young. “While we still believe in networks, we needed exclusive relationships. We had a differentiation imperative.”
Six Apart gave Young and his team exclusive access to bloggers like GeekWeek.com’s Jeff Katz, who is part of the Say 100. But to take the list to another level they’ve recruited the likes of Pratt and Godin, tasking them with identifying influential Web voices.
The plan going forward is to launch new Say 100 content sites and to create custom marketing programs, but not banner campaigns. “This industry needs to evolve brand advertising. It’s not good at making you feel things right now,” said Andrew Anker, Say’s svp, corporate development. “You’ll see us execute sophisticated brand experiences.”
“They already have big advertiser relationships from their network business,” observed Marc Ruxin, chief innovation officer at UM. “This allows them to add some owned-and-operated properties where they can create custom properties for big brands. It makes sense.”
For example, Pratt and Say are planning to launch a site aimed at women sometime this spring. “Everything I’ve done in my career has been about gathering strong voices and making them more mass,” said Pratt. “This is the perfect fit. It feels like the technology has finally caught up with what I always wanted to do.”
However, the idea of finding authoritative, grassroots voices on the Web and packaging their collective influence for advertisers is nothing new. That “conversational marketing” concept, as Young calls it, is at the heart of Federated Media, as well as newer players like Whiskey Media, The Spanfeller Media Group and Deca. How does Say Media do things better?
Among the advantages Young and Anker listed are size, experience, technology and a history of innovation. And the company has a bit of size in 350 people in nine offices across the globe and expects to pull in over $100 million in revenue this year. Say also has been among the first companies to sell ad campaigns based on engagement metrics and time spent rather than impressions.
“What they need is a brand that stands for something,” said Ruxin. “Will that be Jane Pratt, or someone they uncover? It wouldn’t surprise me if the next Martha Stewart is found online and not TV.”
CEO: Matt Sanchez
Founded: 2010 when VideoEgg purchased Six Apart.
Employees: 350 people in nine offices across the globe.
Advertising: Company expects to pull in over $100 million in revenue this year.
President Troy Young: “Display advertising is broken. There is way too much friction. Online advertising is about flat boxes on top of editorial content. That’s a challenge we want to help solve.”