Co-Founder & VP Advertising Solutions
For those of us that aren’t familiar with FOODBEAST, please tell us a little more about your website and core audience.
We’ve been around for a pretty long time, but started as what one could only assume was a half joke by our Publisher, Elie in 2008. While most food properties lean towards reviews or the ‘authentic foodie‘ and recipes most folks would consider us more of a gossip site. We report on fast-food, Mario Batali’s food-stamp diet and everything in between. We continue to have a tone that makes us very not-Food-Network(you could maybe still buy us though, Scripps) which sets us apart.
You recently appeared on the Adpipes Podcast, and stated that FOODBEAST generates over 70% of your revenue from direct sold ads of branded content on your site, which is truly an amazing feat. Can you tell us more about how you were able to build up to such a significant amount of your revenue from direct sales?
Absolutely. This really came out of a need for PR firms to elevate their placements. We would get pitched on a new fast-food item with a 20 page press-release that was instantly thrown in the round filing cabinet. Any time one of these inquiries came in, we would reply and say, “Look, our readers like your brand, but this release is boring as well. Let’s work together to come up with some content that will actually engage them.”
Most of the time, they would say “AWESOME” and we would work together. This really allowed us to build a product now known as branded or native content. We cut out teeth on these deals, and now we actively pitch them to brands, media and digital agencies because of their success.
We have friends that are 100% network/exchange, but with huge scale making way more money than us. For other vertical specific pubs I would imagine it is less than 50% direct. You’ve got to have the scale to make programmatic work, and we’ve never really been a scale play.
Do you have any tips for other independent publishers (not your competitors of course!), for those that are seriously considering doubling down on direct ad sales? What are some must-use tools and processes they should follow?
Build the value. I don’t think we’ve sold a single direct banner without content or SOMETHING attached to it. Luckily we started backwards. We sold content and then started to package display to make it more media agency friendly, but I think most people start the other way.
If you’re a small pub you’ve got to find a way to add the value into the deal without completely selling your soul, and you also have to be able to do it in a way that agencies can purchase it. For example, nobody wants to see a single line item @ $300k that just says “content package”. We’ve been focusing a lot on making these content deals low-impedance for the buyers.
Can you share more on the entire process, start to finish, on how you collaborate with an advertiser or agency on a branded content post?
For us it really starts with making sure everyone is on the same page. If someone says brand safety is a primary for them, we politely tell them to shove off. Kidding, but we will reject a deal if we can’t be ourselves or the brand just doesn’t fit.
Once that’s settled we begin ideation. Depending on the type of content, we pull writers, video staffers and account people in to an ideation meeting, and if the client is restaurant or CPG we try to order in their food to get the full experience. We typically work on a multitude of concepts that get whittled down to 2 or 3 really strong ideas. These travel up the flag-pole for approval.
We typically go through some revisions, usually when the client tells us we can’t cook their cheeseburger with a giant flamethrower, and we land on a concept that everyone is stoked about. How much we collaborate with the brand really depends on their comfort level and understanding of us. The more freedom we have, the better performance they’ll get and we’re lucky enough to have brands that get it. For the ones that need or want more control, we get it and we play ball, but we’ll never post anything we don’t like.
From there we kick off our execution of creative. A lot of times we’re creating display assets in addition to video assets in house. Once everything is approved we launch and monitor the campaign for performance. After the content is launched and the ad flights are done, we work on a report that talks about how much attention the content got, how it did socially and any notable properties that picked it up.
This is usually really cool because you get to see the fruits of everyone’s labor.
Some might call us blasphemous, but our edit team works on a lot of our content. That’s what makes it so good and also allows us to grow in a time when most people are just surviving.
We have a lot of work to do UX wise on mobile. As people view our content more and more through other platforms we have to be very attentive to that experience. Luckily branded content works on all platforms, which means our mobile monetization is pretty effective.
It’s definitely interesting. We’re still not running them yet but we will be soon. Our goal has been not to fight the platforms but be nimble and smart about utilizing them. Ultimately we’re selling exposure through the lens of our voice and that can happen just about anywhere.
Facebook holds a lot of power with side-door pubs like ourselves, and although we’re constantly working on other ways to get new readers it’s key for us to understand our relationship with Facebook and how best to make it benefit everyone.
Is programmatic an important part of your business? It was recently announced that impression transaction volume on AppNexus fell by over 90% after fraud was cut out, which is a pretty frightening fact if you are an advertiser. Where do you see the future of programmatic going?
Not really. Our traffic is still relatively small, so our focus is on driving high value direct sales. Programmatic is honestly more trouble than it’s worth for us. Literally. If we can sell 80% of our inventory direct, the $2 CPMs on the remaining 20% are negligible. I’d feel better just serving banners with pictures of pizza on them, at least they would load faster.
I’m not entirely sure about the state of it overall, but programmatic wrote a lot of checks and it appears some can’t be cashed. Eventually I see it growing into something that is pretty viable for both advertisers and publishers, but it’s still the wild west right now and ad-tech is so volatile it’s hard to tell just how much it will grow up.
My background is building web technology, and I still do plenty of technology/product related to work to our site and so I have a pretty good idea of how things work. When you see how much funding and importance goes in to some of these companies, and then get a grasp of how the tech works it’s really easy to understand why this part of the industry is a total shit-show.
Have you had the opportunity to work on any private marketplace deals, and if so, what was your experience with them?
We haven’t but this is pretty interesting to me. I’m hopeful that we’ll be more involved this year.
How do you think that we, as an industry, can really mitigate this ad blocking conundrum we are in?
I give it a year and half of ad-blocking evolution before it gets really bad (or good?). I’m sure a lot of folks are scared, and perhaps rightly so, but for us content is where we make money. The only way to lose that is if people block our actual content and if that ever happens well, maybe we’ll start a newspaper. HAH.
I think the best thing we can do is treat the users better. In fact there are still a decent amount of positions we don’t fill just for experience reasons. We try to avoid pop-unders/overs, interstitial and things that generally piss people off. Instead of squeezing every last cent out of a visit, we try to rely on larger deals that yield more and have better experience, but this can be hard to do unless you’re very lean.
You can’t really deny that the ad-blocked experience is better, so we have to raise the UX bar. Programmatic will have the most trouble with this. Most of the weight of our site comes from loading display waterfalls and the 10,000 analytics platforms they all stuff in.
We’ve seen viewability increase 25% on a position just from making the ad load faster. The solution should absolutely revolve around normalizing the delivery and measurement of ads all the way down to restricting HTTP requests and creative weight. Bidding is measure in milliseconds and then we jam 20 JS files and barely-loading video down the pipe.
Somewhere out there is a very smart person who will figure out how to make ads behave cross-device and still offer some form of sane measurement. This person will save publishing and make yacht-loads of money.
Lastly, what do you see as the future of monetization for independent, verticalized publishers?
Content will continue to play a growing part. Especially if you’re like us and you really give a damn about what you’re doing. Further into the future I see nuanced and ACCURATE data becoming huge. Sure you can target your ads to someone who clicked on the NBA section of ESPN, but that doesn’t mean that person wants to buy a basketball.
The intersection of publishing and tech has always been really interesting to us and I think in the future we’ll be looking to create new experiences outside of the web site that allow us to have a majorly nuanced understanding of our users.
Not only does this allow us to be more strategic in advertising, but as publishers we can create new services that provide extremely accurate insights to brands that may shape how they develop new products, not just how they market current ones.
The Food News Source.
Foodbeast is the go-to destination for all things NEW in the world of FOOD and DRINK. It was founded by millennials who noticed a complete void in the market for food media with a young, approachable voice.
Currently reaching millions of readers every month, Foodbeast acts as a publication, digital video and TV presence, and a full-service agency for food, drink and lifestyle brands.
In early 2015, Foodbeast launched a kitchen studio in the heart of their Orange County hometown, Santa Ana, CA. In parallel with this studio, Foodbeast launched their Content Studio, a full-service digital media agency.