Q&A: Greg Coleman's Programmatic Plans for BuzzFeed
BuzzFeed said Tuesday that it hired Greg Coleman to serve as its president, replacing Jon Steinberg, who left BuzzFeed in May and later took a job as North American CEO of Mail Online.
Mr. Coleman is the former president of ad-tech firm Criteo and before that CRO at The Huffington Post. As president of BuzzFeed, Mr. Coleman will oversee the company's business side, including ad sales, client and creative services and video. He will report to Jonah Peretti, founder-CEO of BuzzFeed. The pair worked together at The Huffington Post, where Mr. Peretti was a co-founder.
Mr. Coleman, whose first day is Monday, spoke with Ad Age about how programmatic ad-technology might come to BuzzFeed, whether BuzzFeed will seek an IPO and more. The conversation has been lightly edited.
Advertising Age: You told The Wall Street Journal that you plan to focus partly on programmatic advertising. But that typically involves banner ads, which BuzzFeed doesn't run. Can you explain how programmatic ad selling would work at a place like BuzzFeed?
Greg Coleman: I don't know how we're going to get there. But because BuzzFeed is not accepting any banner ads whatsoever, getting into the world of programmatic is going to take a lot of work, ingenuity and creativity. And maybe we won't get there. We're certainly going to put our heads together to see if there is a really intelligent way -- keeping to the mandate of no banner ads -- of where we crack that code. I think we'll have some really good partners -- including the current team at Criteo. They'd love to find a way to work with BuzzFeed as a publisher, but nobody has the answer.
Ad Age: Do you plan to introduce banner ads to the site?
Mr. Coleman: There has been zero conversation around putting banners on BuzzFeed. Could it ever change? Maybe. But, as of now, there has been no wavering over banners.
I've been an adviser to BuzzFeed over the last four years, and I remember the meeting when Jonah made the bold statement that we're not going to take any banner ads. I was shocked and amazed because it meant leaving a lot of money on the table. But we also believe, in retrospect, that it was a bold and accurate move on his part. I know of nothing to suggest that selling banner ads is on the table.
Ad Age: All of BuzzFeed's advertising revenue comes from native advertising. Do you have any reason to believe that native advertising is a fad?
Mr. Coleman: It's only going to be a fad if engagement goes down. We started with sponsored content at The Huffington Post, and we found back then that the honest engagement -- where people didn't feel like it was a bait and switch, where they knew they were looking at sponsored content, where it was labeled appropriately -- was incredible. It's only a fad if people become disinterested in it.
Ad Age: You also told the Journal that you plan to focus on video at BuzzFeed. How do you plan to boost video ad revenue?
Mr. Coleman: I don't have specific answers around that except to say that video will be a real mainstay of both content and advertising revenue for BuzzFeed. How we play that game, in terms of whether we bundle these great video ads with run-of-site native advertising or whether we keep it separate, I don't know. Those are things that will be on the agenda over the next few months.
Ad Age: More than half of BuzzFeed's traffic comes from mobile visitors. How do you monetize mobile traffic?
Mr. Coleman: I operate under the following theory, and I found this out when I made my move to Yahoo in 2001, when the Internet had really blown up and there was no business model: Fundamentally, the dollars are going to follow the eyeballs and creativity, innovation and technology will help build the pathway to bring in advertising. If the eyeballs are there, we're going to find a way to monetize it. It held true when I was at Yahoo and when I was at Huffington Post -- we found a way to monetize it. If you have engaged audiences, marketers are going to want to be a part of it.
Ad Age: You helped take Criteo public with an initial public offering. Is this something you'll be exploring at BuzzFeed?
Mr. Coleman: We'll be exploring lots of things. I know that what Jonah wants to do, and the board wants to do, is to build a very large media company. Whether that will require public financing, or whether we'll -- we're a profitable company now -- whether we can do it with our own cash flow and revenues, we'll see. We have the staying power. I know Jonah has the guts and the vision to say we want to stay independent, we want to grow a big company, and that is very attractive to me.