Washington Post Co. Decides Slate All Grown Up, Needs Own Ad-Sales Force

Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg: 'We're Finally in Control of Our Own Destiny'

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Online magazine Slate has been around for more than 15 years. In that time, it has had two owners (Microsoft previously, and the Washington Post Co. currently), been the recipient of a fair share of journalism awards, and developed a passionate following for its unique and oft-counterintuitive viewpoints on politics, culture and business. The one thing Slate's never had? Its own sales and marketing team. Until now.

Jacob Weisberg
Jacob Weisberg

In late November, the magazine went on a hiring spree for sales and marketing talent that has resulted in 13 new employees and a dedicated sales force for Slate.com. Previously, a shared sales team sold advertising for both WashingtonPost.com and Slate.com.

"What it feels like now is that , for the first time, we're really in full control of our destiny," said Slate Group Chairman Jacob Weisberg.

Citing several contributing factors for the decision, Slate Publisher John Alderman said that Slate has displayed sustained traffic levels that justify an investment in its own salespeople. (The site registered 6.6 million unique visitors in January, up slightly from the 6.5 million in January 2011, according to ComScore.) Slate is also increasingly moving beyond traditional display advertising, Mr. Alderman said, and crafting more custom sponsorship packages for its advertisers.

For example, Hewlett-Packard is sponsoring a series of video interviews hosted by Mr. Weisberg, who plans to host invitation-only chats for select HP clients as part of the deal. Slate also worked with FedEx late last year on a podcast series, Slate's Negotiation Academy, providing tips for all kinds of situations. The series rose to No. 1 on iTunes' list of business podcasts. Mr. Alderman said 1.2 million people are downloading Slate podcasts each month.

"[These types of campaigns are] much more labor-intensive than traditional advertising," Mr. Alderman wrote in an email, "but the results seem worth the extra effort."

The Washington Post Co.'s advertising business, including digital, is slipping. Online display advertising for the company, primarily on WashingtonPost.com and Slate, dropped 15% year-over-year in fourth-quarter 2011 and 11% for the full year, the company announced in its earnings report today. Could a new organizational structure ignite spending on one of its key properties? That's the question.

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