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Mark Thompson at SXSW: Why The New York Times Bought HelloSociety

HelloSociety Taps Social Influencers to Create Content for Brands

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New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson during a Bloomberg interview in March.
New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson during a Bloomberg interview in March. Credit: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

When it comes to acquisitions, The New York Times is "extremely choosy," CEO Mark Thompson said. As evidence, he noted that the company's purchase of the social infuencer network HelloSociety, announced Friday, was the first during his approximately three and a half years as chief executive.

"My view is, it's like the fit, the strategic fit, has got to be just right," Mr. Thompson told Ad Age on the sidelines of the South By Southwest Interactive News conference in Austin, Tex. "We're interested in acquisitions which tuck in and help us complete or accelerate our strategy."

HelloSociety, he said, is an important piece in the jigsaw that is the company's branded content business. "It's about building out, and it's part of the broader transformation of the way we think about digital advertising," he added.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Mr. Thompson said the Times has identified "innovative and non-standard forms of distribution" as an important growth opportunity, just as the company's T Brand Studio, created in 2014, earlier saw opportunity in the production of branded content.

"Distribution, and innovation around distribution, and the effective use of social media, is a really high priority for clients," he said Saturday. "It's one of the things we get asked about a lot, and asked for our help a lot."

While HelloSociety will be run as an independent unit within the Times Co., Mr. Thompson said there will be client synergies.

"HelloSociety also has a lot of very loyal clients who are not currently, but who we would very much like to become, clients of The New York Times," he said. "We have a body of clients, who we could potentially introduce to HelloSociety."

HelloSociety's leadership will remain in place, and the California-based company won't uprooted. ("We're not going to make everyone move to 8th Avenue in New York City," he said.)

Asked whether the Times plans to make any further acquisitions in the near future, Mr. Thompson said the company would be interested "if we can find other companies which help us develop the range of marketing services that we can offer clients, or help us with some other part of our strategy."

The Times Co. has been a seller, not a buyer, in recent years. It sold its shares in the parent company of the Boston Red Sox in 2011 and 2012, the About Group and 16 regional newspapers in 2012, and the Boston Globe and other New England assets in 2013.

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