Cover Story : All Charged Up and Ready to Grow (More)
What’s behind Atlantic Media Co.’s double-digit ad- and events-revenue growth, and triple-digit digital surge? Justin Smith describes its caffeinated-approach to today’s marketplace.February 2010 By James Sturdivant
Back in the 1990s, before blogs, Twitter and a host of upstart Web sites transformed online debate into a raucous convention anyone could gate crash, David G. Bradley decided to build a media company around the "influentials" market. The guiding notion was that opinion leaders—people who formulate, shape and promulgate important ideas—rather than gatekeepers or copyright owners, were the true heirs to the digital kingdom, and that a lucrative consumer market could be constituted by those charged with putting good ideas into action.
Bradley, who built his fortune as a founder of the Advisory Board Company, was on to something. His first media venture was to buy the National Journal, the most influential and respected publication on Capitol Hill. He followed this by purchasing The Atlantic Monthly in 1999. Over the next decade, his Atlantic Media Co. (AMC) would transform a 150-year-old legacy print product into the flagship of a vibrant suite of consumer properties.
According to Justin B. Smith, president of AMC's consumer media division since 2007 and recently named company president, success has come from building and leveraging a strong brand across the print and online landscape.
"The reason why Web traffic and revenue is there is the basic notion that our brand—rooted in intelligent ideas [that can be explored quickly] on the Web or deeper in print—is equally well expressed in print and digital," says Smith. "Each of the mediums serves the brand expression in a different way, but it's the same core concept."
The numbers tell the tale. In the depths of a recession that has meant death to many a media venture, AMC saw an overall advertising-revenue surge of 16 percent in 2009, with a digital revenue gain of 115 percent. Print revenues last year were flat, "which we consider a great success relative to our competitors," Smith notes.
An Engaging Sales Strategy
An important component of the company's success has been growth in its events sector, up 27 percent in 2009. The company created a separate events division (with a separate sales force), called Atlantic Live, which has allowed the company to make significant investments in an expanding events business. "Thought leadership" forums, such as the State of the Union for Health Care and the Washington Ideas Forum, constitute a free-standing, independent revenue stream.
To facilitate a collaborative cross-platform sales environment, the Washington D.C.-based company has built a strong marketing and sales operation in New York. The sales strategy is built around "creative brand-marketing packages," Smith says, rather than the direct response model currently in vogue. "While everyone is competing with Google and the ad networks—and we are too, certainly— we think that we can best compete by understanding our brand marketers' companies, their brand values, their marketing objectives, and integrating those … with our site and content in a way that engages our users in two-way conversations."