Tumblr’s back selling its own ads with a 75-person sales team

Tumblr is trying to restart its ad sales team after Yahoo’s micro-management strategy failed last year. The parent company, run by Marissa Mayer, has given Tumblr back its independence to pitch Madison Avenue, and Arnie Gullov-Singh, the former COO of Polyvore, is in charge of the newly reconstituted Tumblr sales team.

There are still many question surrounding the future of Tumblr, and where it would fit in a potential sale of Yahoo, which is entertaining offers. For instance, if Verizon bought Yahoo — and Tumblr — there might not be a need for an independent ad sales team, at all.

Last year, Tumblr missed its $100 million revenue projections, after Yahoo took over ad sales. There also have been reports that much of Tumblr’s ad inventory sits unsold. Now, Gullov-Singh said he has a strategy to win over advertisers with better services, and Tumblr also started plugging into third parties like Facebook to sell any excess inventory.

Here’s what he had to say, lightly edited for clarity, in his first interview since taking over earlier this year. Gullov-Singh declined to disclose the new revenue forecast, but opened up on selling through Facebook and plans to make Tumblr more accessible to brands.

What was your first order of business as head of monetization?
When I joined the team at the end of last year, we went through a goal-setting exercise. We saw that the audience was growing, more than 500 million visitors a month with 80 percent on mobile, and now we just have to make it easier for brands to see more success.

How do you make it easier for brands?
We make it easier for them to tap into the communities. We rolled out 50 communities that advertisers can target against: Gamers, horror movie fans, fans of TV shows, moms, athletes. And we are coming into sales meetings with value that brands didn’t see from us in the past, with insights tailored to clients, which is something that’s easier to do with a dedicated sales team.

Why are you also selling part of your ad inventory through Facebook, then?
In places that Tumblr and Yahoo don’t have offices, like Italy and Spain — where we don’t have sales teams — we are working with multiple ad networks on a non-exclusive basis. So, we work with companies that have native ad solutions like Facebook, Twitter and Google, because we want to sell our inventory in a way that’s consistent with how we monetize our own product. [Tumblr started showing Facebook Audience Network ads last week, and is still in talks with other networks, which would be able to bid on and buy ad space, too.]

What are some other challenges for advertisers?
In the past, the barrier to entry had been quite high, advertisers had to create a blog before they could promote it. We’re making it easier now with a new product called “blogless posts,” where you could promote your content — your videos, your assets from other platforms — to our audience without having to create a blog. That’s something advertisers have been asking for.

Where do you have your own salesforce, and how is it organized?
The team is back up to 75 people, half are salespeople and half are in support roles like account management and creative services. We’re in most of the major markets New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, London, Munich and Sydney; so we’ve got pretty good coverage and we were able to scale up quickly. Polyvore, which Yahoo bought last year, already had a sales team that was experienced selling social, Tumblr had a pretty good team, and there have been new hires.

What brands are you working with?
We’ve got over 400 brands with active blogs (not all paying advertisers), and we’ve seen success lately with Toyota, Totinos, IBM, Apple, Samsung, Axe, Walgreen and Netflix. Every brand has a presence because the community is creating content every day, and there’s content about every brand, whether they participate or not. Once we show that to brands, that they have a presence, then they say, “OK what do we do with this?” That’s the opportunity.


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