In a strange-bedfellows world, the team launching Hotsoup.com this October includes Mark McKinnon, who headed President Bush's Maverick Media ad team; Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist; Carter Eskew, who was key to former Vice President Al Gore's ad campaign; and Joe Lockhart, press secretary for President Bill Clinton. Rounding out the group are former MSN executives Allie Savarino and John deTar, along with others, including former AP political writer Ron Fournier.
Town meeting on the net
Ms. Savarino, who heads the firm Launch and recently created sisterwoman.com, said the site grew from discussions she had with Mr. Eskew, who now heads Glover Park Group, a Washingon policy shop that does work for Microsoft and phone companies. The concept was to create a town-meeting site on the net, where leaders in politics, business and entertainment could come together and converse.
"The idea was to narrow in on an audience of 30 million opinion drivers for business, pop culture and politics with no specific [political] agenda. We are connecting people who the news is written about with the people who consume the news directly from Washington to town hall."
She said the ad-supported site will offer a hot-issue page with different perspectives provided by a political person, a religious leader and a celebrity, as well as an opportunity to interact with users; a series of "loops" or communities around a particular issue or interest; and a "candy" area containing reviews, speeches, polls and other content.
The site's nine founders are personally investing in the site and make no bones about trying to drain some of the ad dollars from Sunday TV talk shows. "Carter and I have had discussions with Fortune 100 companies about ways to reach opinion drivers besides the Sunday news and cable TV shows," Mr. McKinnon said.
A tough niche to crack
Politically oriented websites have met with at best limited success. While single-sided political blogs have been a hit, various attempts to launch broad-based political websites in the past have floundered, the exception being Arianna Huffington's Huffington Post. In addition, a number of news sites now target the same demographic for opinion-leader advertising, among them the sites of The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.
Ms. Savarino said Hotsoup.com will have a look and feel very different from Ms. Huffington's site and will be far more interactive.