Famous friends, brand strategy and cold soba noodles: A day in the life of Complex’s chief content officer

This article is from Digiday’s new magazine, Pulse, a quarterly print publication about the modernization of media. The first issue examines the perils and opportunities of publishing in the age of platforms. To download the 60-page magazine, please visit the Pulse page

Yes, Noah Callahan-Bever knows Kanye West.

That’s one of the most common questions the chief content officer of Complex Media, where West was a guest editor in the mid 2000s, gets asked. While having famous friends is one perk (for the record, he remains friendly with the rapper), he explained to Digiday that his job isn’t all that flashy.

Callahan-Bever joined Complex 11 years ago as an editor before working his way up into his current position, where he oversees a staff of 150 people across several departments, including editorial, video and branded content.

Complex’s network of sneaker and lifestyle sites reached 52 million visitors in February. Under Callahan-Bever, it has pushed into new verticals and increased its video output. In April, Verizon and Hearst announced they agreed to acquire Complex Media in a deal valued between $250 million and $300 million.

“We have been opening the aperture as time as go on,” he tells Digiday. “Complex is a lens that represents a point of view and that lens can be applied to everything from the Republican presidential primaries to Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and to the new Jordan sneakers.”

Here’s a typical day for him, slightly edited for clarity:

7:00 a.m.: Wake up, check all the Crowdtangle reports while in bed.

7:15 a.m.: Me and the wife, Deirdre Maloney, wake up our 1-year-old daughter, Lennox. Make scrambled eggs for her, turn on NY1. Every morning I drink a smoothie with Allmax Isoflex protein, half a banana, blueberries, blackberries and almond milk, have a giant cup of coffee and watch anchor Pat Kiernan, reporter Roger Clark and traffic reporter Jamie Shupak. Fun fact: Jamie used to contribute to Complex, and one of my favorite stories was our “Oral History of NY1.” Real New Yorkers know.

7:30 a.m.: Hop on laptop, check Chartbeat and Google Analytics. Catch up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Read news stories from everything from The New York Times and The Washington Post to Salon to FastCompany to WorldStarHipHop and #ShadeRoom and drink more coffee.

8:30 a.m.: Nanny arrives. Time to shower and get dressed. Selecting sneakers is a process. Fire off first round of emails.

9:30 a.m.: Take the C train to the office; catch up on Snapchat while on the platform.

9:45 a.m.: Arrive at the office. Usually by this time the edit room is filling up and the team is commenting on the news of the morning and what crazy memes are making the rounds. One meme was Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob, but Twitter didn’t know what episode the wavy meme came from, so our pop culture team did some hard-hitting journalism and found the original episode. There’s no nook or cranny of the Internet we won’t explore.

10:00 a.m.: On-board and welcome new sports social media manager Rawan Eewshah, who joins us from BuzzFeed.

10:05 a.m.: Promise managing editor Ashley Strang that I’ll finish my editor’s letter today. I don’t really mean it, but I feel like I need to say it anyway.

10:10 a.m.: Second round of emails.

10:15 a.m.: Music channel meeting with managing editor Lauren Nostro and director of content strategy Joe La Puma, vp of content operations Jack Erwin and director of content development Ben Shapiro. I still sit in on as many of the editorial meetings as time allows. We talk out the coverage of impending Drake album release coordinating art, video and text ideas. Other than that they catch me up on some of the new artists they expect to cover extensively in the second half of the year.

10:30 a.m.: Check Chartbeat and Google Analytics. Read as many of our trending stories as I can. Sent a note congratulating our sports team for one of my favorite branded content pieces of late, “The Oral History of the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Jordan is obviously a huge part of the culture, first as a player and then for his sneakers and now for the Jordan crying face meme, but going back into that era is a service almost to kids who might not know the ins and outs of it.

10:40 a.m.: Catch sneakers associate editor Matthew J. Welty in the hallway and compliment him on wearing sweatpants to work. For the 25th day in a row. He smiles with his mouth; his eyes fill with hate.

10:45 am.: Quick check in with director of social media, Julian Patterson.

11 a.m.: Meeting with CEO Rich Antoniello to discuss Snapchat strategy and business plan.

Noon: Meeting with founder and CBO Marc Ecko to discuss brand strategy and election coverage. Complex News has become YouTube’s sole partner in their election coverage, giving us a really exciting platform at the recent debates. The great thing about working with a creative like Ecko is that it’s truly a brainstorm, where you start talking about the election and how crazy it is that for a lot of our audience, it might be the first time they’re voting. That’s a big responsibility, so we talked through what that would look like as the election continues to heat up and the youth vote is up for grabs.

12:30 p.m.: Greenlight meeting with vp of video Marc Fernandez to go over the slate and production schedule. Watch sizzles for top-secret new programming.

1 p.m.: Lunch. Every day I get grilled chicken and cold soba noodles from Little Beet. Literally every day. I’m a weirdo. Eat at desk. More loud rap. This time more contemporary. Spotify’s Rap Caviar. Lil Uzi Vert, ya’ll! Plus reading stories on Complex [verticals] First We Feast, Pigeons And Planes and Sole Collector. Then more emails.

1:45 p.m.: Catch up on Complex News on YouTube. Send notes to the anchors. In light of my election conversation, I re-watched the Complex News interview where we asked Trump if “it goes down in the DMs.” This is was a big win, and I was really proud of reporters Nadeska [Alexis] and Hanuman [Welch] for getting a meme-y viral moment on the fly, but I wanted to make sure that we had a plan in place to go harder next time. Our brand is all about balancing high and low, funny and serious.

2 p.m.: On-camera workshop. In an effort to improve my own on-camera presence, as well as understand the particular challenges the Complex News anchors face I’ve been working with producer Talibah Newman on teleprompter green screen reads as well as interview scenarios. I hate it, but I will get better.

3 p.m.: Meeting with owned-and-operated brand manager Sarah Honda to discuss upcoming merch initiatives and product launches for First We Feast and Pigeons And Planes. We look at T-shirt designs and taste-test a really cool new top-secret branded product. MORE FIRE!

3:25 p.m.: Check Chartbeat.

3:30pm: Call with Dante Ross, ADA records director of A&R (who was actually my boss in 2000, when I was an A&R at his Sony distributed label, Stimulated Records) to cook up some collaborative ideas around the Pigeons And Planes brand.

4 p.m.: Screening session with Marc Fernandez, Jack Erwin and Joe La Puma of the documentary we’ve co-produced with Mass Appeal, “Pimp C: Long Live The Pimp.”

4:30 p.m.: Meet with content strategist James Harris to go over Q3 editorial initiatives. James will take these and package them up for our pre-sales team to create sponsorship opportunities.

4:50 p.m.: Check Chartbeat.

5 p.m.: Meeting to discuss our NewFronts presentation with communications director Carmen Villafane, Marc Ecko, Rich Antoniello, Marc Fernandez and chief revenue officer Moksha Fitzgibbons. We’re nailing down time, venue and run of show.

5:30 p.m.: Meeting with creative director Brent Rollins and director of photography Gina Batlle to discuss concepts for our next covers. They are being shot in about 14 days, so we need to nail down treatments and get decks to the talent for approval.

6 p.m.: A half hour of serenity in my office alone. Catching up on the site’s content, email and general bullshit. Eventually Jack and Joe come in and we commiserate on the day’s W’s and L’s and figure out the plan of attack for tomorrow.

6:30 p.m.: Early dinner with music’s Lauren Nostro at Ma Peche to discuss Apple Music strategy and upcoming Music content packages. Those chicken sandwiches are so good. So spicy but so good.

7:30 p.m.: Uber to New Jersey to meet up with Q-Tip at his home studio. “Pass the aux cord, bruh bruh.” Catch up on Pigeons And Plane’s soundcloud playlist of “The Best New Music of February.”

8:00 p.m.: Arrive at Tip’s house. Listen to tunes and watch the Warriors game. As a kid whose entire life changed in seventh grade when he heard The Low End Theory for the first time, it’s a totally surreal experience to have cultivated a relationship with its architect. I try to pretend like it’s regular, but I mean … COME THE FUCK ON, HOW COOL IS THIS???

11:30 p.m.: Uber back to Chelsea and slip in bed with the wife. I wake her up, of course.


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