Atlantic Media Names Chris Batty Publisher of Planned Global Business Site

Sponsored Posts and Nonstandard Display Ads

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Chris Batty
Chris Batty
After signing on some prominent editorial talent for its planned global business-news site, Atlantic Media has named a publisher to run the effort's ad sales, marketing and e-commerce: Gawker Media veteran Chris Batty.

The site will aim squarely at the editorial turf now owned by such players as The Economist and The Financial Times, but it will differ from many news sites on the ad side. It won't, for example, sell the standard display-ad units that the online publishing industry has put so much energy into developing. And it will encourage advertisers to talk directly to its audience through sponsored posts, a growing but still atypical approach.

"Let's serve our advertisers' communications goal as well and not just corral them into banner ads," said Mr. Batty, who led ad sales at Gawker Media for six years.

He joins Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney, former managing editor of WSJ.com, and Senior Editor Zach Seward, who previously oversaw outreach and social media at The Wall Street Journal. (Our interview has been lightly edited.)

Advertising Age: The global battle on the web among English-language news providers seems to just keep getting more intense. What's the opportunity for The Atlantic here?

Chris Batty: We're still doing our deep dive on our brand DNA but it's not going to be something that people recognize as totally foreign from The Atlantic. It will have extremely high-quality content and advertising programming.

The brand is global -- it's really a run at the space that The Economist and The Financial Times currently occupy. And while I don't think it's entirely helpful to define us by what we're not, the first significant brand differentiation is that this effort will be digital only. Those legacy mediums consume an enormous of resource out of those two organizations.

In terms of more specifically differentiating, when you look at The Economist, we're going to be a lot less focused on low-level NGO or U.N. bureaucrats, less focused on people looking for their CFA or MBA. With regard to The FT, we're probably a little less servile on the City and Wall Street .

Ad Age : Everyone in web publishing has to figure out how niche or how mass they want to be. Is this new site going to play out more like a new Financial Times or a new Business Insider?

Mr. Batty: The Insider folks began with an extremely focused coverage model -- tech and Silicon Alley -- and have grown very successfully from there, and aggressively, to the point -- and I spend a lot of time on the site -- when you think about concentric rings of content terrain, they're way out there now. I got my "Kony 2012" cultural zeitgeist from Business Insider. I look at them as the HuffPo with a business filter.

GBE -- which is our working product name, for Global Business Elite -- is going to be focused on the very, very, very top of the pyramid in terms of global business and financial management, the C-suite. We inherently define the target narrowly, with very little aspiration in any foreseeable timeline to wander from serving that audience segment deeply.

Ad Age : Is the model going to resemble the traditional approach -- publish good content to attract an audience, then sell ads against those eyeballs? And is the online display ad market strong enough to make that a compelling business in the near term?

Mr. Batty: I wouldn't characterize our model as eyeballs to sell banner ads. I don't think that 's a business. Display is one arrow in a content publisher's quiver.

I think content marketing probably forms a few different arrows in a well-equipped content publisher's quiver.

Ad Age Are you talking about sponsored posts? You once said sponsored stories would one day comprise the majority of ad revenue at Gawker Media, around the time there was a dustup around a Gawker promotion for HBO's "True Blood" that some people found misleading.

Mr. Batty: I'd love to claim credit but Nick Denton started doing sponsored posts before I got there. I just attempted to scale it.

So in terms of audience and tone this site is very, very different, but we are going to ask global 100 brands to tell us what their most poignant communications problems are and allow us to solve them more like a creative agency.

I know personally I want to know how big these shale-deposit discoveries are. If you listen to one side of the debate, it solves our energy problems. If you listen to the other, it's too polluting. Let's get to the bottom of it.

Those are the kind of things that I think digital-publishing platforms can do really, really well relative to other media. We're going to bring the power of the web to advertisers, not just hoard it for the purpose of aggregating enormous audience and not having a powerful enough ad system to generate the profits we need to reinvest.

Ad Age : Is fracking really the right subject to investigate with paid posts written by people with huge stakes in the outcome? Isn't that much better handled by a reporter without as much of a vested interest?

Mr. Batty: Sure and we will do that for the benefit of the audience. But look, Shell knows a lot about the nature of these deposits. Let's give them the power of our publishing tools to talk to our audience about it with the disclosure that this is Shell.

Ad Age : Forbes has also gone deep in this area with its Ad Voice posts by marketers.

Mr. Batty: First of all I think Lewis Dvorkin [Chief Product Officer of Forbes Media] stole my sponsored post. [Laughs.]

In some ways it's very similar, if you look at the mechanics -- Let's use the whole of the publishing system to serve our advertisers' communications goals as well and not just corral them into banner ads.

The difference is we're going to take an extremely curated and high-service approach to helping our clients use the publishing system, as opposed to opening the system and letting clients publish anything they want sometimes in ways that looks like it comes from the editorial organization. Notwithstanding a few people who didn't know vampires weren't real, no one has had trouble discerning what was real editorial and what was not at Gawker.

Ad Age : But you'll also be selling display ads on the site, right?

Mr. Batty: Display is going to be an important part of the mix. There's going to be nonstandard and proprietary inventory on the site.

That's one of the advantages of joining a new site: I don't have to support 70 advertising campaigns from Day One. We're going to launch with half a dozen marquee programs and every one of those programs is going to be bespoke. That's one part that makes me excited about this.

The drive to standardization is about achieving tremendous scale for the audience in terms of reach and frequency. When you're looking to speak to a very finite elite global business audience we don't have to make those compromises.

Ad Age : Will any industry-standard ads be available?

Mr. Batty: We have no plans for standard ad units.

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