Foundry President On Its Journey From B2B Publisher To Data And Tech Provider

Foundry President Kumaran Ramanathan.

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

Foundry, formerly known as IDG Communications, wants to shed its old identity and build a new reputation not as a digital publisher but as a provider of data and marketing tech, according to Foundry President Kumaran Ramanathan.

Foundry, which publishes tech-focused B2B titles like ComputerWorld and CIO.com, made most of its money through print advertising until 2009, when digital advertising took the lead.

Now, advertising is just 10% of Foundry’s revenue. The majority of its revenue comes from newer growth areas: 55% data and software and 20% marketing services. The remaining 15% of revenue comes from events.

“Marketing today has to be powered by a technology backbone, and marketing technologies have to be powered by high-quality data,” Ramanathan said. “Our road map the last four years has been about establishing the infrastructure to enable us to compete.”

Ramanathan spoke to AdExchanger about why Foundry walked away from open-web programmatic, how it’s fusing its first-party data with a marketing and data tech stack and its M&A ambitions.

AdExchanger: Why rebrand IDG Communications to Foundry?

KUMARAN RAMANATHAN: We have independent publishing businesses around the world. What tied us together was the name [IDG]. But our competitors – platform-based companies and big websites like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, LinkedIn – are more centralized, so we became marginalized.

To really pivot and reinvent ourselves, we had to turn away from what defined us – our brand name. Because if we didn’t, it would cripple our ambition to be identified as a data and marketing technology company.

Some digital publishers – like Vox Media – are building internal ad tech stacks to take advantage of their first-party data. Is digital media trending toward a fusion between media and technology?

Being brave enough to diversify away from monetizing your digital properties as your main income stream is key. Other vertical B2B owners are absolutely looking to technology solutions.

We should start with our customers. We are selling to the CMO in our B2B business. Therefore, understanding the challenges CMOs face is critical. But we had gaps in being able to answer some of their questions, like, “How can I tell what companies are in market for my products?” That’s an intent play. We had to acquire those capabilities.

Speaking of acquisitions, Foundry has acquired four marketing tech companies since 2020: KickFire, Triblio, LeadSift and Selling Simplified. Are you satisfied?

If I said I was satisfied, I’d probably have that drummed out of me. Part of me would love a timeout, but that won’t happen, because we’re continually evolving and identifying gaps in our tech stack.

There are certain areas we’d be better off acquiring. And we’re not restricting ourselves to mar tech. We’re also open to investing in our media businesses. If there are audience gaps or weakness in certain geographies that we feel would benefit from an acquisition, then we’ll look at that.

Tell us about integrating those marketing tech platforms. What gaps did they fill?

We’re clear about the direction we’re going: We want to dominate in the upper sales pipeline. There’s a massive gap there with no clear owner of that category.

All four companies have brought exceptional quality of people and leadership.

We appointed [Triblio founder and CEO] Andre Yee to be Foundry’s first chief product officer, overseeing our four product line groups: B2B, B2C, events and data software. And we appointed Michael Whife, CEO of Selling Simplified, as chief data officer.

Why did Foundry decide to stop selling ads through open exchanges and focus on direct placements and private marketplace (PMP) deals?

When we took ourselves out of the open exchanges about two and a half years ago, we walked away from millions of dollars in revenue. But our direct-sold and PMP revenues have gone up, and the yields are increased.

Why we did it is a funny story. I won’t name the person, but it was the CEO of a mar-tech company in the US. I was in their offices, and he ran some reports about bad actors that were bidding nefariously on the bidstream and not winning but still getting access to data. Within a couple of weeks after that, we pulled everybody out.

IDG was acquired by Blackstone in 2021 for $1.3 billion. How has Blackstone’s backing changed your business?

We’ve been working with Blackstone’s diligence partners to identify what we need to invest in, like our user experience and brand. We’ve struck up a great working relationship with Blackstone’s data science team, run by Matt Katz. Going forward, Blackstone can help us underwrite whatever we need in terms of talent, market analysis or funding to deliver against our road map.

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