PopSugar’s Lisa Sugar on 2018: Display ads will continue to wane

2017 might be remembered as the year that publishers got more serious about things like commerce, events and other lines of non-advertising revenue. But everybody who took their first step into those waters will have a long way to go to catch up to PopSugar, which has had commerce at the heart of its operation almost since its founding 11 years ago.

The company’s co-founder and president, Lisa Sugar, hopped on the phone with Digiday to discuss the evolution of content and commerce, how branded content will change in 2018 and what it means that Amazon is now more engaged in media and marketing. The conversation has been condensed for brevity.

Give me two things we’ll see more of in media in 2018.
Experiential and offline media extensions are going to continue to explode. I would also say licensing and brand extensions, going back to the days of Martha Stewart.

Give me two things we’ll see less of in 2018.
Less display. That’ll continue to go away. Also, there will be less companies. I think some of these places will not make it another year.

The easiest way for a lifestyle publisher to diversify its revenues in 2018 will be ______.
Partnerships. We’re seeing more collaborations among publishers, so they can double up. I’ve been seeing that more and more.

What’s the biggest challenge that lifestyle publishers will face in 2018?
Continued differentiation.

Lot of publishers took steps toward diversifying revenue away from advertising. You’ve been doing this for a while. What does it say that people are moving in this direction, and what do you think about the prospect of more competition?
I think it’s fine that more people are playing. It’s going to be about staying ahead. One of the things we’re going to be doing next year is launching a beauty line through Ulta. It takes the brand from a marketing perspective into 300 stores in our top DMAs. It’s one thing to send off clicks and get affiliate links. Anyone can do that now. Anyone can start their own page and do that. It’s how you continue to stay ahead of everybody else.

Do the publishers that are just moving in have what it takes to do that?
I think what’s important to our brand is that they really trust us. Just having the right angle of knowing what we’re asking them to spend money on is something we’d take very seriously. A lot of other places might just be rushing after the trend or the hot topic, not caring what they’re putting out there.

What’s your big takeaway from branded content this year that will inform what you do next year?
I love that we’re working with brands that are really becoming more partners. It’s less transactional. For good or bad, we really get to understand each other, sharing data and building a better product. That to me is very exciting. Getting to that point takes a while. There’s always learnings when you grow departments really quickly and scaling. But when it works, it really works.

Both marketers and publishers say they want to do more with fewer partners next year. What gets you on an advertiser’s short list?
People are going to look at scale and reach. They’re going to look at engagements. Just to get that RFP in the first place, you need to hit some numbers to show that we check that box for the client. I feel for our sales and creative teams. All day long, they have to come up with the biggest and best idea that’s never been brought to them before. It’s not an easy job. I don’t envy what those guys do, but we do have fun really diving into what needs to get done.

Facebook and Google are being more proactive and offering more assistance in creating content for their platforms. Is 2018 going to be the year when you have to think of them as competitors?
Yes. They’ll definitely be competitors. But they’re still very much a marketer and a partner of ours. We’re selling shows to Facebook Watch. From a marketing perspective and a content perspective, we’ve been able to grow so much because of social.


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