Honeyshed Gets CEO, Prepares to Go Live

After Year in Beta, Branded-Content-Meets-Shopping Site to Launch With Digitas' Greifer as Head

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Almost a year after the ad world first heard of Dave Droga's plans to launch Honeyshed, the branded entertainment-meets-online shopping venture has named a CEO and is preparing to make the jump from beta to reality.
Stephen Greifer
Stephen Greifer

Stephen Greifer, who most recently served as senior VP-global lead of Digitas' promotions practice, has been handed the job of running Honeyshed -- a collaboration between New York creative shop, Droga 5, hotshot production company Smuggler and ad conglomerate Publicis Groupe. The venture launched in beta last fall.

Honeyshed's premise is to make the online shopping experience entertaining and more social. Aimed squarely at Generation Y (the 18- to 35-year-old set), the goal of the website is to promote brands online, not by using banner ads, but via "Saturday Night Live"-esque themed vignettes that are paid for by the brands. Users can digitally window-shop products on channels such as "girl fashion" and "tech and toys," then place their choices on a wish list of online purchases that Honeyshed dubs "my stash."

"It really is at the intersection of marketing and commerce and entertainment," said Mr. Greifer, 52. "It was an exciting entrepreneurial opportunity within the Publicis family for me to make this move."

So far, Honeyshed has worked with names such as Sephora, Nike and Volvo, and when it officially launches -- the target date is Nov. 1 -- it claims it will do so with a combination of new marketing partners and some of these partners from the beta stage.

Challenges
It will be key to balance the sale of mainstream' brands -- that can help sustain Honeyshed as a business -- with the presence of hipper, under-the-radar brands that help a site's cool quotient. "Ultimately, it's really going to be a blend of more traditional brands that have targeted Generation Y, and more fashion-forward and niche brands," said Mr. Greifer. "Some of the big-budget marketers will certainly have product offerings that are more middle-market and more middle America, but the brands that we work with them on will be more cutting-edge, trend-setting."

It'll also be important that the social and entertainment aspects of the site are sufficiently compelling to differentiate it from the hundreds of Gen-Y-targeted online shopping offerings already out there. And Honeyshed will need to create some buzz too, given that the initial hype around the idea subsided long ago with the site having been in beta for quite a long time.

Building a real business
Droga 5 Creative Chairman David Droga himself admits that the Honeyshed team has had "their head in the trough a bit," and that it's high time to move Honeyshed out of the beta phase "to a fully-fledged, legitimate business." In terms of staff, Honeyshed declined to talk numbers, but Mr. Greifer said "we are lean."

Growing the outfit and establishing a foothold in the branded entertainment market will require overcoming three major challenges, Honeyshed's CEO said. One is evolving the site experience to be easier and in line with the way that young users utilize the web. Another is to drive an audience to honeyshed.com with a multi-million dollar marketing campaign using media from traditional channels to social-networking sites. (To do so, it's working with agencies Droga 5, Denuo and Digitas.) The third challenge is getting the attention and participation of advertisers.

Conflict issue
One thing that Mr. Greifer wants to make clear is that Honeyshed is not just "a Publicis enterprise for Publicis clients."

"I've had a lot of success in getting the conversations going and getting in front of non-Publicis agencies, because I'm able to position Honeyshed as something unique in the marketplace," said Mr. Greifer. He said only one agency so far has brought up the issue of conflict as a barrier to its clients participating in Honeyshed. "It's not like every holding company has a Honeyshed; there's only one Honeyshed on the web."

And while one of the biggest concerns for marketers these days is consumer dips in spending in the face of a looming recession , Mr. Greifer shrugs that off as well. "In every economic climate, people have disposable income," he said. "We're not asking people to buy houses and make major investments decisions ... in that way, the broader stresses of the economy work in our favor."

Ultimately, the biggest hurdle for Mr. Greifer and for Honeyshed won't be conflict disputes or a recession, but simply getting folks -- both advertisers and consumers -- to buy into the model.

Digitas and the talent drain
Mr. Griefer is just the latest in a string of top Digitas talent moving elsewhere within the industry. WPP Group this week said it poached Neal Prescott, exec VP-global head of technology enablement, to run a new production unit called Deliver. Earlier, it snagged Torrence Boone, the former president of Digitas, Boston, to lead its (for now, anyway) Dell-centric venture, Enfatico. And, David Kenny this summer relinquished his Digitas CEO role in order to helm Publicis' new digital umbrella unit, Vivaki.

Still, Publicis Groupe's CEO Maurice Levy would be unlikely to stand in the way of Mr. Droga tapping another top player from Digitas. After all, he himself went on the record last year saying that Honeyshed is the holding company's "most important creative bet."
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