Summary:

Atlantic Media rounds out the launch team for global finance publishing start-up Quartz by hiring Gawker vet to head revenue. Justin Smith, the man in charge of making the company’s biggest bet pay off, insists it’s a long-term play.

Quartz

Atlantic Media is rounding out the launch team for global finance publishing start-up Quartz by hiring Michael Cascio to lead the revenue charge. As vice president of global revenue, Gawker Media vet Cascio will be responsible for bringing in the premium dollars the ad-supported effort will need to succeed.

He comes from social network 140 Proof. Before that, he was director of sales at Gawker Media for three-and-a half years and started the sale team for CollegeHumor.com’s Connected Ventures.

Cascio joins fellow Gawker alum Chris Batty, the Quartz launch publisher who was publisher and VP of marketing at Gawker Media. The rest of the top business launch team includes Taylor Gray, VP of global marketing; Kevin Delaney, the editor-in-chief hired away from the Wall Street Journal leads editorial.

They all report to Justin Smith, the president of Atlantic Media — who is, as he puts it, “acting as president of Quartz, running the business myself in a hands-on way.” That includes talking to me as Smith and his family travel through the Grand Canyon on vacation.

Smith’s direct involvement matters for a couple of very important reasons:

  • It is, as he calls it, “by far the largest investment in a new brand” and the “most ambitious new effort” for Atlantic Media. He won’t put a price tag on it but with plans for a 25-person team and global scope, we’re talking millions.
  • A veteran of The Economist and the International Herald-Tribune with stints in Hong Kong, London and Paris, Smith brings a large dose of the experience needed to launch a global publishing endeavor.

Gray, who was at Huffington Post (before and after AOL) in marketing and social media, is the top business-side hire with that kind of international experience. Gray’s resume includes Global Head of Brand, Thomson Reuters; Associate Publisher, Global Marketing Director, Time and president of the Time Magazine Interactive Group.

Cascio and Batty’s experience is domestic but they bring a different strength, explains Smith: “Innovation and disruption are also a very important priority and that’s where those guys come in.” To Smith, Cascio adds another element as the son of a global IBM executive; Quartz is targeting the 2012-and-beyond version of that exec.

Cascio is the client lead. Batty is building the digital advertising for Cascio to sell — designing digital advertising products, including branded content. “We want to represent digital advertising innovation in a really strong way,” says Smith.

He says Quartz will be announcing some launch sponsors in the near future and that at least one, possibly more, will be non-U.S. But Smith isn’t planning any international-based business hires until the fourth quarter at the earliest. He’s not adding anyone in biz dev either; that will be done at the corporate level.

Committed to free for near future

Why start free? With much of Quartz’s potential competitive set, including the IHT, WSJ, Financial Times and others, relying on paid content to a large extent on subscription revenue, sticking with advertising gives Quartz a chance to stand out. “Our strategy at the outset is to produce incredibly high-quality free products and attract a large engaged global audience through premium advertising at first. Likely over time, we’ll be experimenting with some premium content models.”

Staying power

Quartz is based in New York. Atlantic Media’s DC headquarters are across the Potomac from the offices of Allbritton Communications, a competitor to AM’s National Journal, The Hotline and other DC-power-based efforts through Politico. It offers examples of a major investment, Politico, that has been profitable and continues to scale, along with an example of investing substantially in a major project and quickly pulling the plug. That would be TBD, the local news effort that unwound rapidly when Robert Allbritton decided the investment wasn’t working.

Does Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley have the staying power to see Quartz through? Smith insists so:

“It’s a really, really serious long-term venture. We’re building this for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.”

He offers Bradley’s patience with The Atlantic as an example, owning it for a decade before it made a profit in 2010. “Now the atlantic is on tack to double its profits this year. He’s shown his patience and commitment to quality journalists and premium, and to digital business models.”

Where’s the opportunity?

Going global adds to the opportunity but also the complications and challenges. Where does Smith see the potential in a crowded space? The elevator pitch, of sorts: “to create a new brand that is designed from the outset for the way people consume information now and in the future.”

The more detailed version: “We’re really creating a mobile-first platform, almost a tablet-first platform without the friction of a paid model and with the power of some social content distribution — a rising tide and amazing phenomenon for quality content publishers. I think there’s an historic opportunity to create one of the largest brands in the marketplace.”

To most easily be available across platforms and devices, Quartz will emphasize HTML5 and browser-based access over apps.

“It’s also a great opportunity to introduce fresh thinking on the digital advertising side and you can expect us to do that,” he added. “That’s why we’ve hired people like Chris and Michael to lead the charge.” What that will mean in practice isn’t quite clear from the outside yet.

The hiring is far from over. While his direct reports are on board, the layer just below is taking shape. Expect more revenue hires in the next few weeks and the first woman to join the group. Atlantic Media has a good record on gender but the current Quartz list on business and editorial is all male: “Between a compressed time frame, looking for the best talent, a specialized new initiative, with all those factors, it’s frustrating we can’t line up a perfect gender balance.”

Editorial chief Delaney, who has substantial international experience as well, was the first to join, has made some key hires in editorial — Gideon Lichfield, formerly of The Economist, as global news editor and Zach Seward as a senior editor. More hires to come on that side, too.

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