Media Mavens: Christopher Batty, Gawker Media
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Gawker Media founder Nick Denton first met Christopher Batty 10 years ago, the two were based in Silicon Valley, working at different ends of the brewing internet-bubble economy. Mr. Denton, a British expatriate and a former reporter for the Financial Times, had founded Moreover Technologies, a news aggregator, and Mr. Batty had been working in business development at CNet.
Mr. Denton, who even by then had secured a reputation as a peripatetic entrepreneur, recalled his surprise at Mr. Batty's brazen salesmanship. "He nearly managed to sell me a link credit at the bottom of the front page for $500,000," Mr. Denton said, describing what ultimately was a failed sale. "More than that, he still maintains the proposed deal was worth it."
"He never did understand that deal!" Mr. Batty said in response. He's now in his sixth year heading up sales at Gawker Media. "I think Nick's point was that if I could convince him to invest a large -- for him at the time -- sum, I was a talented marketer. I was in turn entertained by this, and a relationship formed."
That relationship has resulted in one of the most closely watched and widely read internet publishers today, with more than 18.9 million monthly readers, according to ComScore, a figure that puts Gawker in a league with more traditional newspapers online. It's come to represent a version of dot-com success, very publicly defined by Gawker's editorial sensibility and less publicly, though no less significantly, by its business instincts. And by all accounts, it is Mr. Batty who drives much of the company's publishing ambitions. While Mr. Denton is the impresario, Mr. Batty is a self-confessed introvert. But don't let that fool you.
"There's one thing that people don't quite get about Chris: his Napoleonic ambition," Mr. Denton said about Mr. Batty's role and demeanor. "Even when he's on top of the world, he still seethes with the resentment and drive of an underdog -- which is what made him such an appropriate fit for Gawker."
Despite his undergraduate visage and boarding school sartorialism, the 37-year-old Mr. Batty projects a kind of weary resolve. His pitch is measured and matter of fact, verging on cynical. You get the sense that he could care less if the person on the other side of the table doesn't buy his offer.
That attitude is perhaps most visible in his decision to stop selling any Gawker pages through ad networks, which Mr. Batty said cost the company close to $40,000 a month when they cut that cord about five years ago. "I had to convince Nick to stop doing it," he said. "You can't give up your brand like that."
Some of Mr. Batty's sales efforts, like a deal with HBO to promote its hit series "True Blood" by announcing Gawker had acquired a new blog about vampires, are unconventional. But Mr. Batty doesn't see the tension between editorial and advertising as a drawback. "When you have the benefit of working for a company like Gawker, where we've got great people in editorial that are tasked with satisfying audiences, as well as great people that are working on the business side that are tasked with satisfying marketers, your ideas can evolve," he said, referring to the fact that both sides of the aisle have had to change their thinking about the ongoing role between edit and advertising.
Some of Mr. Batty's advertising experiments have rankled Gawker's editors. Choire Sicha, a former editor of Gawker and now part-owner of The Awl, once posted on the site his distaste for an Evian "takeover" ad that turned the whole site pink. He suggested the editors refuse to post until ad sales "stop the encroaching madness."
Separately, Mr. Sicha responded via e-mail: "Chris Batty is an ambitious, aggressive, cunning adman -- he's a huge reason why Gawker Media is exactly what it is today."
|VIDEOGRAPHY: STEVE RADDOCK|