Future plc’s Jason Webby says U.K. publisher wants to be a dominant player in the U.S.

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In the roughly two years since Jason Webby joined Future plc as chief revenue officer for North America, the U.K. publisher has acquired eight companies — including Marie Claire U.S., a portfolio of Dennis Publishing properties and data platform Waive — and the pace of acquisition is unlikely to slow in the short term given the company’s ambitions. 

“The shopping spree we’ve been on is pretty prolific. And most of that is really geared towards being one of the dominant media players in the United States and North America,” Webby said in the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast.

While the bulk of Future plc’s buys have been purchases of publications, the strategies behind them have not solely been about adding like inventory and like audiences. That was the case with its deal for WhoWhatWear, announced in May, to bolster the publisher’s portfolio of women’s lifestyle publications. But its acquisition of entertainment publisher CinemaBlend last year opened the company up to entertainment advertisers that hadn’t yet become part of its client base, Webby said. Meanwhile, the March acquisition of Waive will help the company to build on its first-party data platform Aperture as Future plc develops its own identifier, Future ID, which is designed to not only help the publisher prepare for the demise of the third-party cookie but also capitalize on its burgeoning U.S. business.

“We feel really good about our ability to not have to rely on cookies at all. And we have that ability today. One of the benefits of having such a vast user base that’s all on our same owned-and-operated platform is we’re already reaching one out of every three U.S. online adults,” said Webby.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Acquisition as advertiser diversification tactic

The fact that we keep adding new content plays with new acquisitions gives us a whole new range of clients to talk to, so not everyone in the marketplace is going to be down at a given time. Certainly we’ve seen some clients either may have supply chain issues or they couldn’t get product out, and so maybe they’ve canceled campaigns or delayed it. That absolutely has happened in different pockets. But I think we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to weather that by having a really diverse portfolio of brands and users.

Acquisition as advertiser acquisition play

When we first acquired CinemaBlend, we weren’t doing business with the likes of Hulu or Disney+ or HBO Max or any of the big Hollywood studios or streamers. Today we do business with almost all of them. So that was a really good example of us looking at the marketplace, finding a site that can really add to our portfolio of brands in giving us a new content property that we can go to market with and bring in a whole new set of clients and users to our overall portfolio.

Acquisition as cross-selling opportunity

We acquired The Week; we also acquired Kiplinger’s Person Finance. That has created deal opportunities in the wealth category for us as well as current events. So we’ve been able to look at advertisers that they had traditionally had a lot of strength and long-term relationships with, and now we’re bringing new Future brands to the fore for them that they’re able to now communicate with users. So we’re cross-selling quite a bit. That’s one of the benefits that we look to when we bring new brands into the portfolio.

Acquisition as first-party data strategy

We’ve migrated TheWeek.com onto our owned-and-operated platform, which we call Vanilla. We have over 250 web properties all on the same platform. That enables us, from a first-party data standpoint, to look at a user as an individual and understand where they come into the Future portfolio, what content resonates with them, where do they go if they go from TheWeek.com and then click over to Guitar World or MarieClaire.com. We can identify that person as a unique user. If someone’s looking for a certain audience that The Week has in strength, we can also look at how that segment might play out across the entire Future network.


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