Fortune’s Journey To $100 Million In 2021 Revenue, Thanks In Large Part To Branded Content

Michael Joseloff, CMO, Fortune

“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Branded content has proven lucrative for Fortune.

The business new publisher generated around $100 million in revenue last year, a third of which came from its digital advertising and subscription business.

Since Fortune was sold by Meredith to private investor Chatchaval Jiaravanon in 2018, it’s been laser focused on striking branded content partnerships with advertising clients through the Fortune Brand Studio.

One recent effort revolved around a partnership with Salesforce to produce a 12-part, long-form docuseries called “The Ecopreneurs” for Salesforce’s streaming platform, which Fortune promoted through a hub on its site.

Michael Joseloff, Fortune’s CMO, spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Where are you seeing growth in your ad business?

MICHAEL JOSELOFF: A big driver has been our focus on building multiplatform bespoke programs around topics that are important to the business audience that we serve.

Can you give some examples?

We’ve worked on initiatives around sustainability, AI, diversity, equity and inclusion and emerging from the pandemic.

For one consulting firm, we built a destination focused on how businesses can address climate change and look at sustainability from multiple angles. We created a series of reports that were published on the site that was presented by a single sponsor, a dedicated podcast that dove deep into how this sponsor looked at sustainability and a related C-level event.

How do you make sure there’s a healthy balance between editorial content and sponsored content?

Usually, it’s a topic that’s of mutual interest to the sponsor and the editorial team. The editorial team makes their own decisions as to how that topic is explored, but there are areas and opportunities for sponsors to share their perspective in a way that’s additive and also transparent to the audience. Everything we do with branded content or sponsored content is clearly labeled.

One example is the Leadership Next podcast. The guests and the questions are all chosen by the editorial team, but there’s a midroll conversation that takes place with the host and the CEO of the sponsoring company around a similar theme to the podcast.

How does Fortune’s editorial content strategy tie into your revenue diversification efforts?

We have a new editor in chief, Alyson Shontell [who started in September], and she’s already making her mark on the digital business. Our unique visitors for December, for example, were up 50% year over year, and unique visitors were up 30% from the average for the previous three months.

Alyson, in the process of building dedicated teams, focused on core areas that are critical for business leaders at all levels right now, from career and investment advice to crypto, Web3, AI and other emerging technologies. That’s also where there may be an opportunity for us to explore other business models, like ecommerce.

How else is Fortune partnering with sponsors?

Events, both virtual and live, are critical. Our ability to build community has been a real differentiator.

Another growth area has been Fortune Connect, a new community to train the next generation of leaders in purpose-driven leadership. It includes an array of events – virtual and, soon, live – and an in-depth curriculum of asynchronous and synchronous cohort-based learning.

Some partners want audio, and that’s monetized through impressions on the site, as well as through downloads.

We also built a platform called Fortune Education that launched in April to generate qualified leads for our partners, such as high-intent people looking at online MBAs or advanced degrees.

What’s your method for measuring the success of these initiatives?

On our digital advertising side, we sell guaranteed impressions so we can ensure we’re hitting the targets our clients are asking for. We work with third parties, including Nielsen, to measure the impact of our custom and branded content.

Nielsen content effectiveness studies use an online panel-based, forced-exposure survey method with 20-plus questions and track metrics like uniqueness, enjoyment, host likability, attribute associations and additional custom measures. Ad effectiveness metrics include ad recall, familiarity, affinity, purchase intent and recommendation intent.

Fortune also just started working with Harvey Research to measure ad campaigns and branded content. Digital subscribers take a forced-exposure survey of 10-plus questions to capture the effectiveness of the content experience or ads.

How has Fortune been working to build its first-party data set?

We’re operating like a 90-plus-year-old startup. Since going independent after we were sold by Meredith, we really had to rebuild and re-platform from the ground up.

In early 2020, we launched a new site, video hub and paywall. So much has been built very quickly, and we’re still continuing to build. So, for the most part, we’ve been using a third-party data solution to ensure our advertisers are reaching the core targets that they want, but we’re in the process of building a first-party data solution.

We’ll be able to do a lot more with first-party data as we get into the second half of this year.

What is the current state of your programmatic ad business?

Direct partnerships are a much larger part of the business, but we have offerings on the programmatic level. With our new editor in chief, you’re going to see Fortune’s scale really start to grow, and that’s going to bring more value for programmatic advertisers.

We’re also looking to scale our editorial video through some initiatives in the connected TV space in the coming months.

Does that mean more original video content, a Fortune streaming service or working with another streaming platform?

Those are all on the table.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!