With xoJane Launch, Say Media Embarks on Transformation into a “Passion-Based Media Company”

5/31/11Follow @wroush

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move to the next article, just looking for whatever is interesting. We felt like there was something in the ad model that had to reflect this media behavior.”

That led to innovations such as tickers—text ads that slide up from the bottom of the video frame, offering some type of link or interaction—and eventually to fully immersive, rich-media ads like the BMW ad on this demo page. The company’s latest version of the technology, called “Adframes Display,” lets advertisers combine video and animations with maps, games, surveys, and social media in user-initiated popup ads that work on smartphones and tablet computers as well as the desktop Web.

Having created these new ad formats, VideoEgg was able to risk switching to the cost-per-engagement pricing model. Once it had done that, it naturally had to start thinking harder about what drives engagement. And it found that things like the design of a page and the tone of its editorial content made a big difference, Sanchez says. “We were learning that things like the size of an ad relative to the content and the reading mode that people were in had a much more deterministic effect on getting someone to engage with a brand than things like behavioral targeting.”

Which brings us to business number four: Say Media. VideoEgg could have kept its ad revenue growing simply by focusing its campaigns on the sites with the highest engagement—but “that was not the only thing we were solving for,” Sanchez says. In other words, it wasn’t just that the company could help publishers do more to increase engagement by actually owning them; it was also that the niche audiences that brands wanted to reach were distributed across lots of small publications, each one lacking the resources to turn itself into an effective platform for CPE advertising. “Learning how to build beautiful, engaging platforms that people will want to spend time with and discover on mobile and tablets and the Web; using the best SEO practices to get a good-sized audience; and connecting that to marketers who really care about the community and what’s happening there—those are the things that a small publication with two million readers will struggle to solve,” Sanchez says. And those are the kinds of things Say Media’s 320 employees handle today for xoJane, whose editorial operation is still in New York.

With revenue expected to top $100 million in 2011, Say Media is profitable, according to Sanchez, and is in position to keep building or acquiring media properties without having to raise more capital. Its last round was a $15 million Series C financing in 2007, with August Capital, First Round Capital, Focus Ventures, Maveron, and WPP on board. MediaLiquid co-founder Lerman is still working with Sanchez today as Say Media’s chief technology officer, by the way, but Sladek left the team to become a helicopter pilot for the Marines.

Say Media’s overall strategy obviously takes a while to explain—which is why the Say Media website is still a hodgepodge, mixing information for publishers, media consumers, and especially advertisers and marketers. “We’re trying to show marketers the packages they can buy and the voices they can tap into to get to a scaled media program,” says Sanchez. “But we are not ‘the video advertising company’ or ‘the engagement company,’ or whatever the shorthand was before. I think that over time, Say will be understood more for the point of view and the authenticity and the passion that’s represented in the media we stand for. And it will just be assumed that we are also experts at coming up with great advertising programs around that kind of media. If that happens, then we’ve done our job.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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