Interview - HuffPo CEO Jimmy Maymann: 'We don't see traditional online ads as the future'

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Digital Media


In the face of stagnant growth in traditional advertising, digital publishers are looking to sponsored content as an alternative route, something Buzzfeed has been doing well, and The Atlantic has been doing less well recently.

It's an approach that new AOL Huffington Post Media Group CEO Jimmy Maymann tellsTheMediaBriefing is going to be a core part of how the online news outlet makes money. And with 10 more country launches coming in the next 18 months, it's a strategy being rolled out around the world.

"We don’t see traditional MPUs as where the future is. You obviously need to work out how to do advertorial," he says. "Over the last 12 months it’s gone from testing things out to big programmes with brands like Johnson & Johnson and IBM.

"They are getting in there and spending significant money on keeping these programmes alive. Not just for campaign processes, it’s not just a one-off, but about creating brands as publishers."

Maymann says Huffington Post isn't immune to fluctuations in the ad market, but a combination of advertorial, new formats like AOL's project Devil and what he says is a high level of engagement with the audience helps minimise any negative impact. 

He says: "We are more considered like the Facebooks and Twitters because we do more to engage people. We're not the first bucket advertisers cut back on."

Maymann joined AOL in 2011 when the firm bought his six year-old viral video company GoViral, just one day before it bought The Huffington Post. Before being promoted to the new CEO role, he was head of international for the Media Group.  

Maymann says Huffington Post is going to focus on three areas over the next five years:  different content sections (or verticals, in the digital publisher jargon) video in the form of HuffPost Live, and global expansion:

-- Vertical spread: Huffington Post operates more than 50 sections on all the topics you'd expect - and some you wouldn't such as Marriage (and Divorce). Mayman says of the roughly 50 million monthly unique visitors HuffPo attracts, 30 million are visiting specific sections and these verticals bring in targeted advertising benefits. 

He's in no doubt it works: "Of course it’s always easier to get very close to your audience when you have something like that and you can have a laser focused campaign on very specific interests."  

-- Global: Huffington Post has been expanding aggressively with Canadian, UK, French, German and Spanish editions all launching in the last two years, some with local partner publishers. A version is set to launch in Japan and there is a partnership in Africa in the pipeline, and Maymann says he wants to launch in a further 10 markets in the next 18 months

-- Video: Given his video background it's unsurprising Maymann says HuffPost Live video content is going to become an increasingly important part of what Huffington Post does. 

"I believe it’s the future. The written word is always important, but I believe people always want to watch the news - on the TV or streamed. Of course it takes some investment and time and it’s very early days, but it is something we will keep expanding." 


Maymann says the creation of a CEO role is part of AOL's decision to run Huffington Post as a more standalone business having initially worked hard to integrate the business tightly with the rest of AOL. As well as Maymann, the organisation is getting a separate CTO, CFO, sales director and business development team. 

He says: "When you buy a business, you want to make sure you get that entreprenurial DNA across the rest of the business, so it filters down to other operating units.

"That has worked very well in a lot of ways - things like social media tactics are now common practice across a lof of the rest of the business.

"But if you have to think about everything else you can lose sight of what's important for the specific business- we need to put the focus back on that."

In particular, Maymann says that having a more independent tech team will help Huffington Post extend the success it has had with it publishing platform to mobile.

"I don’t think we are ahead of the game in mobile, I think we are on par, but it’s an area where we need to set the agenda." 

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