On the future of mobile advertising: We’re working with this new technology which we’re calling Responsive Media, where we’re optimizing every single thing that we do for all possible screens—it’s built into the development of these different products that we’re doing. For instance, in The Cut [nymag.com’s newly expanded fashion vertical], anything that you see on your browser will be optimized for the tablet and the phone. Some advertisers are saying, “Hey, X number of impressions are going on mobile, and you’re not optimized for mobile, so the ad doesn’t look good, and we’re not going to get response.” So we’re addressing that.
On monetizing social: It’s not a direct monetization. We’ve been very aggressive on mobile lately on both Facebook and Twitter. If you get the right story out there in the right way on Facebook or Twitter, it pays back in huge numbers of visits to the site, to the story that was linked—so we then get to monetize that traffic. That’s how we monetize social.
The next-generation circulation department: What we used to call the circulation department is now the audience development department. We have two people completely dedicated to enhancing our social position, and since they’ve been here, the traffic has jumped significantly. You can see it from what they’re promoting and how the traffic has played out.
Matthew Sussberg joined Salon as its VP of advertising in June; he previously worked at Wenner Media and The Huffington Post.
On the “death of the banner”: Everyone wants to know what’s the next step in online advertising. But to say that the banner is dead is silly. It would be like saying that a cover-4 [the back cover of a magazine] or a 30-second spot on Modern Family is no longer important. You still need to drive awareness; you still need to have a ton of eyeballs on one spot. At the end of the day, a client wants to know that X number of million people are seeing their ad.
This is not your grandfather’s banner: The banner ad has gone from a banner to this huge splash ad, push-downs, and overlays—so when you say the banner is dead, I can see how for some people that does ring true. But the banner itself has evolved; there’s just so much more that you can do with it. It went from just a GIF or a JPEG, a static image, to—now we’ve got a unit on the site that you could run a full 30-second video in. I guess you still consider it a banner unit, but it does so much more than what a banner unit did 12 months ago, let alone 36 months ago. It’s constantly evolving.
The (still) big business of display: I would say banner buys represent 70 percent of our revenue. I don’t know that that’s going to be the case moving forward; we’re going to evolve with our clients and what other publishers do. You always have to be on the forefront of whatever the next big thing is.
On creating custom content for advertisers: The other 30 percent [of revenue] includes branded entertainment pages where we’ll figure out a way to create a custom content area, if you will, that speaks to the client’s objectives. For Salon, it’s a sophisticated, educated, affluent user, so we’re not going to be talking about disposable razors—but could we come up with a custom content area that speaks to the intersection of style and technology for a luxury car maker? Absolutely.
On editorial integrity: There is obviously a church-and-state divide. A lot of times we present what we think is a great idea but the client says, “No, we want X, Y, and Z,” and we’ll just have to go back to them and say unfortunately we can’t do that. Certain publishers definitely cross over that line. I’ll tell a client, “We want to create something for you that is going to be successful for us, and that means our users are going to want to read it and want to share it with their peer group. If you guys are too heavy-handed, it’s not going to work. You can tell us you want a slideshow about your automobile. Sure, we could create that for you, or someone else could create that for you. But no one is going to read that.” That’s just an ad unit.