“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
News flash for those who need it: Millennials are well into their 30s, and the oldest members of Gen Z are approaching their mid-20s.
That’s why BDG sees opportunity in the parenting vertical. BDG is a parent itself. The media company owns numerous titles that are popular with Gen Z and millennial women, including Bustle, W, Elite Daily and NYLON.
BDG’s acquisition last year of Some Spider, along with the latter’s parenting publications Scary Mommy, Fatherly and The Dad, was a major step toward ramping up its focus on parenting.
The publisher plans to continue creating an ecommerce-focused experience across its portfolio that allows endemic brands to target users throughout their parenting journey. BDG is also prioritizing reaching young adults in the ways they prefer, said Sharon Mussalli, BDG’s EVP of revenue and operations.
That means going big on platforms like TikTok and having a presence at live events like Coachella. At the same time, BDG is devising new ways for advertisers to reach its base of newsletter subscribers.
Mussalli, who joined BDG as part of the Some Spider deal, spoke with AdExchanger about its plans, as well as BDG’s IPO ambitions and whether more M&A is in the works.
AdExchanger: What is the current state of BDG’s digital ad business?
SHARON MUSSALLI: We’re experiencing about 30% revenue growth year over year. Adding Some Spider to our parenting portfolio opens up opportunities for growth against categories like CPG, retail and other areas endemic to parenting.
BDG has 21.5 million followers on TikTok across all brands, and we’ve created over 100 pieces of custom content in that space for brands like the Gap, Sephora and Disney+. We lean heavily on revenue from custom content.
What areas of your business are you hoping to grow this year?
I have to start with our CEO Bryan Goldberg’s favorite: newsletters. Open rates and engagement rates are higher for the BDG portfolio than anything I’ve seen in my career. This year, we’ve seen 25% growth in newsletter subscribers, which has also grown our PII base.
We’re looking to increase newsletter ad revenue by four to five times year over year. We have room for that growth, particularly in the lifestyle and parenting categories. Our CTO Tyler Love is working on new newsletter ad products.
We also anticipate a 20% revenue increase in 2022 against experiential.
How are you monetizing your first-party data and preparing for the end of third-party cookies?
We’ve been investing in our tech stack to be able to warehouse our data and make sure it remains clean.
Our strategy is to be omnipresent and not wholly reliant on any distribution platform. If you were to be truly disrupted by the deprecation of cookies, it would suggest you’re heavily reliant on a dot-com business. But our diversification in the social sphere allows us to not be as negatively impacted by the deprecation of cookies.
BDG has used M&A as a source of growth. Will that continue?
BDG will consistently be in evaluation mode, looking at acquisition targets to grow our audience. We’re a portfolio of 13 brands, but I could imagine a world where, in the next five years, we’re a portfolio of 15 or 20 brands.
BDG’s titles are popular with millennial and Gen Z audiences, particularly women. What opportunities are there for continued growth with these audiences?
Parenting is big. The Dad and Fatherly added the fatherhood piece, which is something BDG didn’t specifically address previously and is complementary to Scary Mommy and Romper.
Parenting is an age-and-stage category. You have to reach parents at every stage of their journey and throughout the life stages of the child. You can target a parent to a high degree of accuracy based on age and stage. Are they expecting? Do they have a newborn? When you can speak to that whole journey, you can work with everyone from diaper brands to insurance companies for a kid getting their first car.
Brands want to reach parents in moments of receptivity. There are moments when, for example, a nursing mom feels all alone, and if you can speak to her authentically in the right tone in that moment, you’ve created a more meaningful connection than you would by showing her a list of 20 products.
How important is commerce to BDG’s business?
Commerce is essential to our diversification strategy. We do a lot with affiliates, and we work with major players in the ecommerce ecosystem, including DTC brands and the big retailers.
The direct partnerships we have with DTC brands can drive lower-funnel activity. People can scroll our sites, see products featured within our editorial content, build a cart in real time and check out.
It’s been reported that BDG is targeting a public offering, likely through a SPAC merger. Are those plans still in the works?
Bryan, our CEO, is focused on a liquidity event or a public listing of the company. I won’t comment on the financing vehicle or what the pipeline is, but that definitely is on the horizon. We were profitable in ’21, more profitable in ’22, and our acquisition strategy and other indicators put us on the road to a public listing.
How important are diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts to how BDG runs its business?
We have an inclusion council and we do training and sensitivity reads. There are quarterly audits by our editors to assess coverage areas and imagery. We do biannual salary benchmarking, and we have a pledge to ensure that 15% of our products, brands and freelancers are coming from Black creators.
Far be it from me to be the spokesperson on DEI, but I do think the industry has moved forward in a positive way. But do we continue to need to move forward as a society? Sure.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Sharon Mussalli’s title as EVP of brand marketing and experiential. Her proper title is EVP of revenue and operations.