About.com Hires Pandora Exec Brian Colbert As First Revenue Chief

Mr. Colbert to Consider New Ad Formats, Creative Studio Amid Site Overhaul

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As About.com undergoes a site overhaul, the digital media company has found the executive who will be charged with updating the business side of the revamp.

Brian Colbert
Brian Colbert

About.com has named Pandora's VP-mobile ad sales Brian Colbert as its first chief revenue officer. Mr. Colbert will oversee About.com's sales team of roughly 50 employees and will be tasked revitalizing advertisers' attentions while the site tries to do the same with its audience.

In the year since The New York Times Company sold About.com to IAC for $300 million, the site saw its U.S. desktop web traffic drop by 2% to 59.3 million unique visitors in September, according to comScore. About.com CEO Neil Vogel is glad the dip wasn't worse.

"If you look at our product now, it doesn't look like the product needs to look like for 2013. The first thing we have to do to change the brand is update the product," said Mr. Vogel who joined the company in April. Mr. Vogel declined to discuss About.com's revenue but said the company is profitable.

About.com will "start to show new things in [the fourth quarter] and roll into next year," Mr. Vogel said. He wouldn't offer specifics but said the company is focused on design, mobile and social and how that translates to the ad side. He also said About.com would embrace two of online advertising's biggest trends -- content marketing and automated ad buying, two heavily buzzed-about terms "we're historically not great at." Which is why he hired Mr. Colbert.

Mr. Colbert turned Pandora into a mobile juggernaut by ensuring the company didn't lose money as users migrated from PCs to smartphones and tablets. In the second quarter of 2013, mobile accounted for 70% of Pandora's $128.5 million in advertising revenue. Prior to joining Pandora, Mr. Colbert was in a similar role at ESPN, helping the sports media giant set up a mobile ad revenue stream before the iPhone even had an App Store.

At About.com, his concern will be more with the content than the screen on which it is shown. "What's most interesting about what [About.com is] trying to do is a combination of search and content people are actively looking for and ways to weave advertising into that content to make it organic and native," Mr. Colbert said.

Mr. Colbert described About.com's user behavior as "intent-based consumption" and said that advertisers will need to be retrained in what they think is possible on the site. That retraining is already under way elsewhere at sites like BuzzFeed and Vox Media that are more closely aligning ads with editorial content, even erecting in-house creative agencies to help marketers create content. About.com has something similar in mind.

"In terms of something very specific like a content creation studio, that's absolutely the sort of thing we're looking at doing," Mr. Vogel said, describing About.com's 800-plus freelancers as already an informal content studio.

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