Q&A: The Huffington Post's Founding Editor Gets Ready to Move On
Roy Sekoff has been with The Huffington Post since the very beginning -- before the beginning, actually. "I'm the only person other than Arianna who was there from before day 1 to now," he said.
In a recent memo, Arianna Huffington announced to staff that Mr. Sekoff would be leaving the company. "Roy's only immediate plans involve a yoga mat, a huge stack of backlogged books, long hikes in the Santa Monica mountains, and a prime spot in the carpool line at his daughter's school," she wrote.
With only a few days left in his 11-year tenure, Mr. Sekoff spoke with Ad Age about The Huffington Post's growth, about its future, and about getting the opportunity to recharge and explore who he is "outside of that 24-hour news cycle."
The conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.
Advertising Age: Did you expect to stay 10 years?
Roy Sekoff: This has all been a surprise. I've worked with Arianna on a variety of projects, for 16 and a half years. That's when I first started working with Arianna. To be honest, I did not see the success that we have reached coming. It's all been wonderful. It's interesting. This is the week when we first were putting together the first outline for the business plan of what would become HuffPost back in December of 2004. So if you had asked me back in December 2004 if I'd be sitting here having this conversation with all that we've done, 11 years later, no. The crystal ball was much cloudier.
Advertising Age: The Huffington Post has been around for 10 years, but it seems like the company has been around a lot longer. Perhaps it's because you made an immediate impact, where as some other digital media sites have taken the last few years to really build up their profile.
Mr. Sekoff: Timing is really interesting. We hit at this really great moment for new media.
Advertising Age: Do you think the digital media marketplace is getting too crowded? Do you think it's becoming sort of a loud, crowded room full of voices and brands at this point?
Mr. Sekoff: Well, I think things have certainly accelerated. That is the challenge. Right? It's the classic innovator's dilemma. Now, obviously, the things that we did that were differentiators -- whether it was creative aggregation, the use of community, voice and attitude in presentation of news -- obviously, when you're successful, people try to follow in those footsteps. So the trick for us is to always try to stay one step ahead. And that's what I think that HuffPost has really been defined by: in that in this time of incredible innovation, we've both stayed on that leading edge of change while maintaining our core DNA. We haven't wavered.
Advertising Age: It seems like media companies are trying to experiment with new initiatives and new distribution platforms while still being mindful of the need to make money, and to be profitable, at least down the road. It seems like a balance.
Mr. Sekoff: One hundred percent. I think it's like playing roulette. I wouldn't put all my chips on 25. You know, that may be a good number for me, but I wouldn't put it all there -- spread it around a little bit. So yeah, I think you have to do both. There were discussions, back in 2010 I think it was, where there were certain people going, "Hey, look, Twitter's the thing, Twitter's the thing for news. And if we don't look like Twitter, if we don't operate like Twitter, we're going to be dead in six months." And we didn't throw the baby out with the bath water. We experimented, we integrated Twitter into what we were doing, but we didn't try to turn ourselves into Twitter.
Advertising Age: How important is it for The Huffington Post to cultivate a new generation of readers who know and trust the brand?
Mr. Sekoff: Yeah, staying relevant is always -- it's so funny we're having this discussion. This is how quickly things move now. We're the old guard. At 10 and a half years. Yeah, certainly you have to stay relevant, and you have to use the platforms and the nomenclature and the ways of consuming news. That's what's changing.
Advertising Age: The Huffington Post has obviously invested a lot in video, and has tried out a bunch of video series concepts. You co-hosted (with Marc Lamont Hill) "The HuffPost Show," a weekly news show, which aired from April to June. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
Mr. Sekoff: For me personally, it was a lot of fun, since I wrote it, produced it, and was on air with it. For me, it was a tremendous experience. And I think it was great for the brand. The numbers we got socially fantastic. Basically 50% of our traffic was on social platforms. It's also served as a real calling card for us. We have gone around and shown it to a lot of platforms, networks, production companies and it's led to some really, I think, super-exciting partnerships that we're going to be announcing early in 2016.
Advertising Age: When do you expect to see the first Huffington Post TV show on linear TV?
Mr. Sekoff: If you've worked in Hollywood as long as I have, you never make predictions about the development process. But, I'm excited about that.
Advertising Age: How does video play into the business side of things? Obviously video generally nets higher rates for advertising. In terms of monetizing, do you see video as a big revenue-generator for the company?
Mr. Sekoff: Absolutely. You know what's happening with display ads. And, so, clearly, that's one of the great values of video -- is that, not only do consumers want it, that's where brands want to be. Our biggest deals that we've made recently are all around video content. So yes, a massive part of the business plan moving forward.
Advertising Age: In Arianna Huffington's memo about your departure, she mentioned that there's a tradition of employees leaving the company and then returning, and she said that she's hoping you'll do the same. So is there a decent chance you might come back at some point?
Mr. Sekoff: Arianna and I, as I said, have been together for 16 and a half years. Our lives are incredibly interwoven. There's no question that HuffPost is in my blood, and it always will be. And I have zero doubt that I will team up again with Arianna and HuffPost on a host of projects. What form that will take is yet to be determined by my interregnum, but I have no doubt that we'll be closely aligned. This is really an incredible opportunity. The messaging of Thrive, and a more sustainable lifestyle, it's not just an editorial angle, it's something that we believe in. Which is why when I spoke to Arianna about feeling like it was time for me to have a revivifying break, she completely understood that, and supported it completely. So that's it. Over the last few months it became clear to me that I needed a little bit of a change in my lifestyle after this.
It's a funny thing because so many people -- and I don't know what it is about our culture, I think I understand what it is -- they can't quite get that you're not going to want more. "You mean, you're not going to want to keep more? More? Achievement? Money?" And it's like, "Yeah, well, we've done quite well." It's been a remarkable, glorious 11-year run here, and we've been very successful. And I kind of want to enjoy some of the fruits of that success.