Deanna Brown Shares Her Thoughts on the Future of Federated Media, Web Advertising

For Publisher's Newly Appointed CEO, It's All About Engagement and Participation

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- By the time Ad Age caught up with her on Wednesday morning in San Francisco, Deanna Brown was having a pretty good week. Not only was she anointed by founder John Batelle to be the new CEO of Federated Media, a company that helps web publishers sell advertising, she was also fresh off the stage of FM's Signal LA conference, where the power couple of the week -- Ariana Huffington and AOL's Tim Armstrong -- drew a crowd a few days after AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post for $315 million.

Deanna Brown
Deanna Brown Credit: Melissa Blemur

A California-born East Coaster, Ms. Brown has been in the media business for more than two decades, and her prior jobs include AOL, Yahoo and starting Conde Nast's digital network, CondeNet. After 18 months as the chief operating officer at Federated Media and now becoming the CEO, Ad Age wanted to know her thoughts on the web, advertising and the future.

Ad Age: The tagline on FM's Twitter is "Federated Media Publishing powers the best of the independent web at scale." How do you define "independent web?"

Ms. Brown: John does a much better job of this, but for me it really is where the highest level of engagement and participation happens; it's based on audiences that go directly to those properties, not through search or a portal. The independent web has a lot of authors and services and applications that are not owned by major media companies. It's media that is independent of email or search or promotion from a cross-media platform.

Ad Age: You've made some acquisitions recently, including FoodBuzz and mom-focused community builder, BigTent. What is it that you are trying to accomplish with these purchases?

Ms. Brown: We're looking to be a truly cross-category media company and wanted to balance our strength with some lifestyle opportunities with dominant players in the food and parenting space. With [social-media agency] CleverGirls, it is more of a partnership -- and that gives us strength in women's vertical.

Ad Age: What makes a good women-focused site?

Ms. Brown: Do you have a few days? That's what I've spent a lot of my career on. A branded voice -- an authoritative and a credible voice that grabs an audience and captures attention. Women in particular use the internet as a conversational tool. Whether they connect with people that they know, like friends or family, or have a life-stage commonality or they connect with people who are interested in the same things they are -- it doesn't matter. There's a voracious appetite in the mommy space. Women are huge connectors and conversationalists. This is going to age me, but it's like that shampoo commercial ... "I told two friends, and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on."

Ad Age: A press release about your appointment said that you helped FM get a "35% growth in ad programs." What does that mean?

Ms. Brown: What FM does is not easy -- it's not just a network of ads that goes out on everything. FM helps branded advertisers become conversationalists in the right environments at scale. And what's interesting about FM properties is that they've connected with an audience and their connectors have connected.

Ad Age: But what's an "ad program?"

Ms. Brown: A program may be everything from a two-day engagement on a hot topic to something like American Express' site for small businesses, the OpenForum, where we curate conversations. I'd say we're building more programs and products than we are selling ad impressions. Our expertise is around conversation and conversational media as opposed to just selling impressions. Other programs include Facebook, such as this [MyLifeScoop] project we did with Intel; Hyundai sponsored blog posts and even traditional banners that invite conversations.

Ad Age: So what's coming up this year?

Ms. Brown: We've spent the last year going deep into our categories, now we're going wide. We used to reach 17 million unique users, now we're at around 40 million, so we've doubled our audience size. In terms of adding categories, we were in tech and small business, now we're in food, parenting, fashion -- so I'd like to add entertainment and retail.

Ad Age: What have you seen change in the media, marketing and advertising space over the past two decades?

Ms. Brown: The biggest change is this shift of attention and opportunity in what some people know as the long tail on the torso. I've worked at publishing companies that were the early adventurers in the "www," I worked at the portals -- so I'm most excited about the individual publisher. FM helps people navigate that field. The biggest change is the shift from attention on a few publishers to an infinite number of individual voices.

Ad Age: How conversational was it in the '90s?

Ms. Brown: I tried three or four different times back then to engage marketers but they were not ready. And now, life has come full circle.

Ad Age: What was the last thing that you "liked" or shared as a consumer?

Ms. Brown: I am working on a house in Sonoma, so I liked some gardening tips. I'm also the FourSquare mayor of the hardware store in Sonoma -- that's a very competitive thing out there.

Ad Age: And one last fun question -- what was the first record you bought with your own money?

Ms. Brown: It was Billy Joel's "The Stranger" on vinyl and I played it over and over and over. Styx, Journey and Genesis followed soon after.

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