Nick Denton applies the same formula to every blog he launches: find a niche topic with broad appeal to young men, recruit a talented and crass young writer who's in it as much for the exposure as the paycheck, come up with an irresistible title, promote (and cross-promote) like hell, and wait for advertisers to call.
That's how he's rolled out each of Gawker Media's five properties -- Gawker, Gizmodo, Fleshbot, Wonkette and Defamer. So it's surely how he'll approach his rumored in-the-works sites on travel and gaming.
The formula appears to be paying off. Last month, Denton launched a sophisticated and high profile custom Web site for Nike under the Gawker brand. Called Art of Speed, the Nike blog was a genuine coup for a publisher in the still lowbrow blog arena. While Denton hasn't shared results on the site's performance, he said it exceeded targets.
In a recent exchange with ClickZ, Denton discussed the elements that make a site like Art of Speed work, his dislike of the frenetic talk about making blogs big business, and his daily morning coffee at Balthazar.
Q. Do you see custom publishing efforts like Nike's Art of Speed becoming a major revenue stream?
A. I can see custom publishing as part of a larger package. The more progressive brand marketers want it all: association with the Gawker titles, access to the Gawker demographic, custom microsites, syndication of content from those custom microsites, promotion of those sites, Web public relations, even events. The grander the imagination of the campaign, the greater the chance of making an impact.
Q. What mix of advertising and content is appropriate with such initiatives?
A. In custom publishing, both online and offline, the content *is* advertising. The more interesting question: is the advertising compelling? If custom sites are poorly executed, or pitch a product too narrowly, they'll fail, both as content and advertising.
Q. Any numbers you can share on traffic and/or lead generation for that particular effort?
A. I can't share metrics, except to say that they exceeded target. However, a search on Technorati shows twice as many mentions in the blogosphere of the Art of Speed blog as for the main site for the Nike campaign.
Q. How does packaging and selling ads in a blog format differ from the practice in other Web-based media? What are the differences from a media buyer's perspective?
A. Some blog ad networks, such as Blogads, offer proprietary formats. The Gawker titles are more traditional. We offer four standard IAB ad units, priced either by the week or by CPM. What's different? The influence and youth of our audience, nothing else.
Q. What's your strategy for publishing and serving ads in RSS format?
A. We really haven't thought about it -- we just publish RSS to get more traffic. There's no easy way to sell advertising in feeds.
Q. Describe marketers' interest so far in Gawker and its sister sites. What are their perceptions, concerns and fetishes with regard to your business and your audience?
A. All the Gawker titles are category-specific, focused on audience interests such as gadgets and movies. So much of the advertising is endemic: consumer electronics on Gizmodo, for instance. In the last six months, we've seen increasing interest from youth-oriented brands such as Nike. As 18-34 year-olds shift from network television and newspapers, some of the more progressive brands are clearly shifting budgets to the Web.
Q. Has the attitude and crass humor pervading the Gawker sites affected your relationship with marketers? Any hesitancy or complaints there?
A. Yes, we lost a division of Microsoft because of a crass joke on Gizmodo, the Gawker gadget site. The Gawker environment isn't for everyone. We won't be getting any P&G business for a while. However, it's the attitude that attracts the audience, and the audience that attracts the marketers. There's plenty of bland media out there; I feel no desire, nor do I see any business rationale, in adding to the surfeit.
Q. You've expressed skepticism that blogs will ever be a big target for ad spending. Do you still feel that way? What future do you see for ad-supported blogs?
A. Blogs will get their fair share of Internet advertising, and probably more than that, because they attract a particularly influential audience. But the reason I've been skeptical is because blogs are still in their infancy. Drudge Report alone probably gets more traffic than all the top 100 blogs put together. Web properties such as Daily Candy and Flavorpill have done a much better job so far of packaging up an audience for advertisers. So everyone should just cool it, produce great entertainment, and let compound growth work its magic. Marketers are much more impressed by numbers than by hype.
Q. What can we expect from Gawker Media in the coming year?
A. More consumer Web titles. Deeper features on each site. Some spinoffs into print or film. No, that doesn't mean a Gawker magazine.
Q. Describe a day in the life of Nick Denton.
A. Coffee at Balthazar at 8:45. Deal with the morning's email backlog, lounging on the sofa. Check freeconference.com for the details of the conference call. Agonize over the name of the next site. Try out name variants on onelook.com. IM with Gabriela (advertising operations) in Paris, Patric (design) in Chicago, and Choire (editorial) in the East Village. Lunch at Lever House or Balthazar, with a media buyer, if possible. A nap. Surf aimlessly around the Web. Hey, I can always *pretend* I'm on the lookout for new writing talent. Exercise, sometimes. Alcohol, often.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
March 19, 2014