‘A dollar is a dollar’: Publishers restructure commerce teams to drive revenue, experimentation 

The lead image shows a robot with multiple arms holding up shopping bags.

Publishers’ commerce businesses have been tested left and right over the past couple of years, thanks to platform algorithm changes, changing consumer shopping habits and the economic slowdown straining companies’ and consumers’ budgets alike. 

In an attempt to try and right the ship, media companies like BuzzFeed, New York Post, Red Ventures and Ziff Davis are taking it back to the basics and restructuring the teams responsible for this revenue stream, according to panelists at StackCommerce’s Activate conference, which took place on Tuesday in Midtown Manhattan. 

Some publishers are shuffling the oversight of commerce under the purview of their revenue chiefs in an effort to find more ways to upsell advertisers and affiliate partners. Meanwhile, others are designating roles that focus on maintaining the highest converting categories while other staffers are tasked with experimental platforms and product categories to increase content output. 

The making of a monetization team 

Several media companies have arrived at the mindset that all revenue streams have a way of boosting one another, if they’re working in tandem. And what’s a better way of doing that than having one person oversee all divisions involved? 

At Ziff Davis, all revenue streams, including affiliate commerce, advertising and licensing, have been funneled into one “monetization” team, according to Jessica Spira, the company’s former vp of partner growth and management, who recently started at Hearst Digital Newspapers as its vp of commerce.

“A dollar is a dollar, who cares where it comes from,” Spira said. 

At Red Ventures, a similar structure was put into place, according to the company’s vp of commerce David Bricker, who primarily oversees CNET. All revenue streams have been siphoned into one team, led by the evp of media and commerce, Lauren Newman, who started in that role last month. Other publisher CROs, including Vox Media’s Ryan Pauley and The Daily Beast’s Mia Libby, have said they’re now responsible for overseeing commerce revenue in conjunction with advertising and subscriptions, a change that came officially in the first quarter of the year. 

This structure gives companies the chance to work in step to add more conversion-centric key performance indicators to advertising campaigns or increase the reach of affiliate partnerships with paid placements, as opposed to “nickel-and-diming” large clients for deals on both the advertising and commerce sides of the businesses, Bricker said during the event. 

Keeping advertising and commerce teams separate has a history of causing internal competition, which can lead to commerce undercutting traditional advertising price points by thousands of dollars in exchange for comparable placements. 

Hiring the right skill sets

Other restructuring is taking place on content production level within commerce teams.

During a panel on editorial commerce strategy at the Activate event (which I moderated), Jackie Goldstein, vp of commerce at the New York Post, said her team is hiring people who are experts in specific writing styles, like evergreen content or deals/sales-oriented coverage, rather than hiring subject matter experts.

“If I were hiring at The Verge [where Goldstein used to work], tech knowledge and extreme awareness of what those specs mean is wildly important,” she said. At the NYPost, however, “we look for people who are generalists… so we’re able to do a lot of experimentation [across product categories].”

BuzzFeed restructured its editorial commerce team earlier this year, following its acquisitions of Complex Networks and HuffPost, vp of commerce partnerships and strategy Jess Seib said during the panel. She said the goal was to focus on the consistent, high-converting categories, while allowing for experimentation on new platforms, like TikTok, and in new categories, like parenting. 

“We didn’t always have that structure in place so it was a bit harder to be reactive,” said Seib. “You have to intentionally set aside time to test and learn and set a rigorous testing schedule to make sure you’re measuring the effectiveness of each of those groups.”

Now there is an experimental team dedicated to following online trends and cultural vernacular. They ensure headlines are appealing to BuzzFeed’s Gen Z and millennial audiences and include keywords for search engine optimization amplification, in addition to creating longer-form content that goes beyond the publisher’s tried-and-true listicle format. 

BuzzFeed Inc. has been particularly bullish on alternative platforms for commerce, with its Complex brand hosting shopping events in the metaverse over the past three years and testing live shopping over the past two. But even if these experimental channels are not yet driving direct revenue, having a presence there is still important because that’s where the online shoppers are going, Seib said.

Take TikTok, for example: While notorious for losing attribution between a consumer’s initial click on a content creator’s post and finalizing check out, the social media platform is still a primary area of focus for BuzzFeed, Seib said. 

“We want to be there when the capabilities become available for us to monetize and we think it’s a missed opportunity not to take advantage of building those audiences now,” she said, adding that experimenting on that platform wouldn’t be possible if all commerce staffers were splitting their focus between known conversion drivers and experimental areas.


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