Gawker and Thrillist Indicate Lifestyle Sites May Ride Out Storm

Taking the bleak view is one of Gawker Publisher Nick Denton’s signature postures. He moans when times are good, and gets downright apocalyptic when they’re not. So when the economy nose-dived last fall, it was no surprise to find Denton at the head of the self-flagellating pack. In a November blog post, he asserted that any publishers who didn’t prepare for a 40 percent year-over-year drop in ad revenue were “sleepwalking into economic extinction.”

But it turns out the recession hasn’t been so bad to Denton. In a post yesterday, he disclosed Gawker’s revenues spiked 45 percent during the year’s first half. What gives?

In a follow-up exchange with ClickZ, Denton cited a number of reasons the company appears to be weathering the storm. Chief among them is continued strength in entertainment and game industry advertising. Consumer electronics marketers have also maintained ad budgets, he said, though to a lesser extent.

Denton also noted lifestyle properties that make up most of Gawker’s network are less exposed to weakness in real estate, jobs, or financial advertising — unlike many national sites and newspaper sites.

“I think a bunch of the premium sites have been doing OK,” said Denton. He believes online media brands such as Gawker and Daily Candy are still riding a wave of brand ad dollars flowing to the Web.

That’s certainly true for another youth-focused online publisher — New York-based Thrillist. The guy-focused e-mail newsletter network has seen its revenue climb more than 100 percent during the first part of the year. The company’s newsletters and Web sites are distributed in 12 cities.

According to a Thrillist rep, the company has seen strength in the consumer packaged goods and typically recession-proof spirits sectors — but also in somewhat more vulnerable categories such as travel and consumer electronics. Recent advertisers have included Pepsi, JetBlue, Heineken, and Canon. Thrillist says it’s also been buoyed by significant audience growth this year.

To better appeal to big brands, both Gawker and Thrillist have embraced ad formats that are larger and more dazzling than typical Internet fare. A Freelancers Union campaign now running on Thrillist’s New York site features imposing display ads with synchronized messages. Meanwhile, rich media ads for the Palm Pre are now running on numerous sites in the Gawker family, including Gawker.com, sci-fi geek site io9.com, and gamer property Kotaku.com.

Thrillist is offering some custom solutions, including local event promotion. A recent campaign for Warner Bros. film “The Hangover” drove subscribers to view the movie trailer in the weeks ahead of the film’s release. On the eve of the premiere, Thrillist hosted a live event in New York that featured an extended version of the trailer. Over 1,000 people attended, according to the company.

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