With New Editorial Strategy in Place, Upworthy Is Stacking Up Talent on the Business Side

Zazie Lucke Joins From Bloomberg as Head of Brand Solutions

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Zazie Lucke
Zazie Lucke

Upworthy made a statement about its future in January when it hired well-known digital journalist Amy O'Leary away from The New York Times.

The company, which launched in 2012, had decided to stop practicing the dark art of "curiosity gap" headlines, and to give up curation (or repackaging) in exchange for original content creation.

At a conference in March, Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley said that, in perpetuating the spread of "clickbait" across the web, the company "had unleashed a monster."

He apologized, and in July, the company released a 39-slide presentation highlighting its new focus on mission-driven storytelling, to be overseen editorially by Ms. O'Leary.

But Upworthy has also been snatching up business-side executives, and on Tuesday announced the appointment of Zazie Lucke as the company's head of brand solutions.

Ms. Lucke, who previously led global marketing for Bloomberg Media, will be "responsible for creating innovative, strategic campaign packages for brands, agencies, and nonprofits, while also identifying and developing strategic partnerships," Upworthy chief revenue officer Ben Zagorski wrote in a blog post.

Mr. Zagorski, who once served as publisher of the Newsweek-Daily Beast combo NewsBeast, only joined Upworthy himself in May; head of content collaborations Nicole Carrico came from Discovery Communications in June; and Jennifer Lindenauer, VP of marketing, was poached from The Guardian in July. So it's fair to say that Upworthy has been staffing up with digital media industry veterans over the last few months.

Upworthy CEO Eli Pariser told Ad Age that he has poached executives that he "shouldn't have been able to recruit."

He said that 2015 has been a "watershed" year for the company he co-founded, and that O'Leary's appointment jump-started everything.

"We are really well-positioned to be the leader in positive, purposeful video storytelling," Mr. Pariser said, honing in on what he said has been a growth area for the company.

Upworthy struck gold early on when it started repackaging video content from across the web and slapping on headlines that were both uplifting and particularly fun to share on social media. Readers reacted by visiting the site by the millions.

Through its Upworthy Collaborations offering, the company has sought to recreate the same viral success for brand advertisers.

Branded content contributes 100% of the company's revenue. Mr. Pariser wouldn't reveal whether the company is profitable, but said: "We're very pleased with how the business is going."

As noted in media reports this summer ("Once the web's fastest growing aggregator, Upworthy pivots"), Upworthy isn't the traffic cow it once was; according to ComScore data, unique visitors dropped 10% between October 2014 and October 2015.

But that doesn't seem to be worrying some of the big-name brands and organizations -- like General Mills, Unilever, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- that have been signing up to create advertising with Upworthy.

Furthermore, the company claims a big boost in video views (from 5 million, monthly, in January, to 125 million last month, according to a spokesperson) that might soften any concerns about a lull in Web traffic.

Upworthy also partners with media companies, such as MSNBC, on video storytelling. Mr. Pariser said the company has a few other media partnerships in the pipeline, but declined to elaborate.

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