‘Context really matters again’: How BuzzFeed’s HuffPost acquisition can help the combined company’s ad sales pitch

buzzfeed huffpost

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said on the Digiday Podcast that plugging HuffPost into the larger BuzzFeed organization may cost the news publisher some revenue in the first six months after the acquisition closes.

But that may turn out not to be true. Agency executives expect that BuzzFeed’s acquisition of HuffPost from Verizon Media Group will quickly bolster HuffPost’s advertising business and that the boost should extend to BuzzFeed’s other news properties and its broader portfolio.

For as well established as HuffPost is, the news publisher’s standing in advertiser circles has slipped in recent years. HuffPost maintains a three-person sales team, but its ad sales efforts have largely been subsumed into the broader Verizon Media portfolio, effectively relegating HuffPost into a generic source of news inventory, according to agency executives.

HuffPost “has been an ancillary part of any of our conversations, and it is led primarily by the lead Verizon salesperson,” said Patrick Kelly, svp and group director of digital investments at Havas Media.

Multiple agency executives said they struggled to recall a meeting with Verizon Media within the past few years in which HuffPost had been a focal point. “I haven’t heard a Huffington Post pitch in years. You hear a Verizon Media pitch,” said one agency executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By comparison, BuzzFeed’s sales team has been much more active when it comes to pitching direct deals to advertisers tied to its specific properties, such as BuzzFeed proper or Tasty, the agency executives said. “I think the HuffPost side might benefit from that,” Kelly said.

Also in position to benefit would be BuzzFeed’s broader sales pitch, including its news-specific sales efforts.

On the same topic — listen to the Digiday Podcast!

The BuzzFeed-HuffPost deal follows similar tie-ups — ex. Vice-Refinery29, Group Nine-PopSugar and Vox Media-New York Media — in which what were once individual publishers are remaking themselves into media conglomerates. By expanding their content portfolios, these companies are putting themselves in position to increase their audiences and better compete against larger media companies and digital platforms for advertisers’ dollars. “It gives them that critical mass to fight the 800-pound gorillas — and I do see that as a really critical thing to the ecosystem,” said the agency executive.

Given the boom in news consumption in 2020, some advertisers are overcoming their years-long aversion to being associated with news content. “We’re definitely seeing an increased focus on news from clients. We’re driving that partially,” said the agency executive. Furthermore, the amount of misinformation on digital platforms like Facebook and sites whose inventory is sold in open programmatic marketplaces is pushing advertisers to reprioritize working directly with individual publishers. 

“Advertisers are starting to figure out that context really matters again, and there’s a role that social platforms play, that Google plays, but also that publishers play,” said a second agency executive. Advertisers are likely to work directly with a smaller list of publishers than they have in the past in order to mitigate audience overlap and wasted ad dollars, and this executive said that BuzzFeed, with HuffPost in tow, “would meet that threshold.”

More specifically, the addition of HuffPost could improve the ad sales pitch for BuzzFeed News. Multiple agency executives said they have not had clients do deals with BuzzFeed that focused specifically on BuzzFeed News. Beyond advertisers’ broader aversion to news content, BuzzFeed News has been beset by a perception problem among advertisers.

“It’s getting clients to understand this is a primary destination for news. When the mix of content they publish on Twitter leans more heavily toward entertaining celebrity quizzes, that’s a hard conversation to have with clients,” said the second agency executive.

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The acquisition of HuffPost could help to fix that. At the least, the addition of a second news property to BuzzFeed’s portfolio will create an opportunity for BuzzFeed’s sales team to explain to advertisers how the two publications differ and, in doing so, highlight BuzzFeed News as separate from BuzzFeed proper, which is more focused on lifestyle and entertainment content. 

Additionally, BuzzFeed could bundle BuzzFeed News and HuffPost. The company would not necessarily need to merge its two news properties, though two agency executives said folding BuzzFeed News under the more distinct HuffPost brand would simplify the sales pitch. Instead BuzzFeed could pool the two publications’ inventory and sell them to advertisers in a packaged deal as well as alongside BuzzFeed’s other properties. 

Pitching advertisers on a campaign that can be run across a portfolio of sites — and tailored to each context, as needed — “makes a more compelling story back to the advertiser,” said Kelly. 

Helping the combined BuzzFeed-HuffPost sales pitch, the publications’ audiences are more complementary than overlapping, according to agency executives. “There’s pretty limited overlap from my purview and even our planning tool’s purview. Maybe 15% to 20% [of the people who visit BuzzFeed’s sites also visit HuffPost],” said the first agency executive. 

Peretti has said that HuffPost appeals to an older, more affluent audience than BuzzFeed. Barry Lowenthal, CEO of The Media Kitchen, backed that claim but emphasized that, in describing HuffPost’s audience as older, “I’m not talking geriatric.” He pegged HuffPost’s core audience base to be in 35- to 54-year-old age range. “HuffPost is older millennials, and BuzzFeed is younger millennials,” Lowenthal said.

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