How Bustle, Atlantic Media are expanding their agency services

Today’s publishers have to think about more than just advertising and subscription revenue. The latest example is millennial women-aimed Bustle, which has launched Bustle Trends Group, a research arm.

The Trends Group plans to publish white papers and do custom projects for companies that want to market to millennial women. The unit is being led by Jessie Tarlov and the goal is to have up to five people by the end of the year.

Jason Wagenheim, chief revenue officer for Bustle, to whom the unit will report, said the long-term goal is obviously to sell more advertising in Bustle. But he said it’ll operate more like a research firm, co-publishing with other research firms and producing data that doesn’t necessarily lead back to an ad product.

By way of example of how the Trends Group is different from other publishers’ research arms, he pointed to Bustle’s decision to bring on someone without a traditional media sales background to lead it (Tarlov, who has the wonky title of senior director of research & consumer insight, has a research and political consulting background). The Trends Group will charge on a project basis, but he doesn’t expect quick profits.

“Most data trends and research divisions have one goal, which is selling more advertising,” Wagenheim said. “We all want to sell more ads. But this is really a one to two-year lead time to show effects. If clients are running media that is working because of the insights we’re giving them, they’re going to continue to renew business with us.”

Another publisher going this route is The Atlantic’s consulting arm, Atlantic Media Strategies, had similarly branched out. Launched in 2012, AMS has already built websites, redesigned sites and helped companies with their messaging. Last year, it developed a tool it calls Audience Quotient that measures a client’s audience potential. AMS says it’s had around 10 clients buy the AQ tool, contributing 35 percent of its new revenue last year, and that based on that growth, it plans to add to its research arm and launch other diagnostic tools this year.

Jean Ellen Cowgill, who runs AMS, said AQ adds consulting firm-like work to AMS’s existing marketing strategy services. “We were developing strategies in the past, but now we have more tools to quantify where these organizations stand,” she said.

Other publishers like The Washington Post and Forbes have looked at the tech expertise they already have in-house and try to sell it to other publishers. One obvious risk of branching out into new business lines is that it can put publishers in competition with firms that are already established in the field. In the case of AMS, Cowgill isn’t worried about competing with consulting and research firms because they are also AMS clients, and unlike them, AMS helps with strategy.

“We’re really acting as a hybrid, because we’re what someone might consider a consulting firm and an agency,” she said. “They don’t touch content strategy — that’s not a place they’ve played.”

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