New MailOnline Exec Jon Steinberg Is Already Putting His Stamp on Ad Sales

His Message to Adland: We're Cheap, For Now

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Jon Steinberg, a former BuzzFeed executive, is the CEO for North America at MailOnline.
Jon Steinberg, a former BuzzFeed executive, is the CEO for North America at MailOnline.

MailOnline, the website of British tabloid Daily Mail, has a message for adland: We're cheap, for now.

"We're the underdog, the up and comer, and I'm super flexible," said Jon Steinberg, CEO for North America at MailOnline. "I'm willing to be cheap -- proving your value is the lifeblood of this business. My modus operandi is to come up with a price the first time, over deliver, and then renegotiate the price."

Well, it's sort of the underdog.

MailOnline is the most-visited newspaper site in the English-speaking world, according to ComScore, and usually No. 2 in the U.S. behind The New York Times. It slipped to No. 3 behind The Washington Post in July, with 38.4 million unique MailOnline visitors across desktop and mobile devices, according to ComScore. But that still marked a 28% increase from July a year prior.

The site's ad sales in North America continue to fall short of its traffic here, however, despite a major push last year to build awareness for the brand among both consumers and advertisers. Last year, MailOnline in the U.S. did around £5 million of revenues, or about $8 million, parent company Daily Mail and General Trust told investors in July. This year, it expects U.S. ad revenue to exceed £10 million, or about $16.5 million.

BuzzFeed, which has about the twice the U.S. audience as MailOnline, is expecting its revenue to top $100 million this year.

Enter Mr. Steinberg, who until May was president of BuzzFeed, where he built the company's business model of selling only sponsored articles to advertisers. In June, MailOnline tapped him to lead the business side of its North American operations.

Mr. Steinberg "has a great network of advertisers and advertising agencies in the U.S., particularly strong in New York, which is incredibly important," Stephen Daintith, finance director at Daily Mail and General Trust, told investors. "He is exactly the sort of recruit that we want for MailOnline, which shows our seriousness of investment in this level."

Since joining MailOnline, Mr. Steinberg has moved quickly to meet with marketers and media agencies. An early result of these meetings can be found on the MailOnline homepage on Thursday: large banner and wallpaper ads from BBC America, part of a campaign that includes not only display ads, but also sponsored articles and video ads. This campaign, along with similar promotions for Comedy Central and Strayer University, "most have my mark on them," Mr. Steinberg said, referring to the three-pronged approach of display ads, paid posts and video.

He declined to discuss how much BBC paid for the campaign. In general, advertisers can expect to spend in the high five figures "to really get going," according to Mr. Steinberg. Low six figures, he added, is "where you'll be able to do something substantial" on the site.

For the BBC America campaign, MailOnline has promised to deliver 23 million total impressions. The sponsored posts, which went live earlier this month, have already attracted more than 60,000 views, according to Mr. Steinberg. He expects more than 100,000 views on these articles.

"We have a long history with Jon that dates back to BuzzFeed," said Matt Stein, senior VP-marketing, promotion and creative services at BBC America. "We were one of their first partners on the integrated ad front. We love him, he's smart and innovated."

BBC America is continuing to advertise on BuzzFeed, Mr. Stein added.

Unlike BuzzFeed, which has a creative services team that produces sponsored articles for advertisers and considers traditional display advertising heretical to its mission, MailOnline taps its newsroom staffers to write native ads and runs display ads, a tactic that predates Mr. Steinberg's arrival. Mr. Steinberg brushed aside any suggestion that this strategy betrays previous statements he made about the irrelevance of banner ads and the importance of walling off a newsroom from marketing services.

"Every site has the ad products that work best with it," said Mr. Steinberg. "And BuzzFeed is a different site."

"If I have three bows in my quiver -- native, video and display -- I'm going to use all three," he added. "The only thing that matters is the ideas."

To help carry out these ideas, Mr. Steinberg is planning to grow MailOnline's business team dramatically. Of its 150 or so employees in the U.S., mostly in New York, only about 30 work on the business side. He expects to increase business staff by 100% to 150%. Editorial headcount, he added, will grow by about 50%.

When asked whether he plans to poach anyone from BuzzFeed, Mr. Steinberg replied: "Poaching is not my style at all. That wouldn't be something I would do."

One year from now, he hopes to have solved MailOnline's "Madison Avenue challenge," which he blamed partly on brand confusion around the Daily Mail's digital presence being MailOnline. By the middle of the fourth quarter, MailOnline will migrate to, according to Mr. Steinberg.

"I want confusion around the brand fixed," he said.

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