If Cella Irvine had her way, she probably would have picked a different year to take over the CEO seat at the About Group. Like most media properties, About.com has been hit by a declining display market and a disastrous economy. About’s string of healthy revenue growth has, in the last half year, turned into revenue declines. In an effort to counteract some of those effects, Irvine, who took over the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) unit following the departure of Scott Meyer, has tried to change the way About sells to advertisers.
Its pitches are now more along vertical lines in an effort to pair advertisers’ interests with one or other of the group’s sites, which in addition to the flagship guide site About.com include CalorieCount, ConsumerSearch.com and UCompareHealthCare.com. At the same time, About, which has long been bullish on display ads, is also now pushing cost-per-click more heavily. Irvine, a former chief administrative officer of Digitas before it was acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2006, says it has greater ad-targeting potential because users are more primed for specific messages. In addition to the new ad-sales approach, we also talked about life under the NYTCo’s umbrella.
David Kaplan: After a series of quarters of double-digit revenue growth, About’s revenues were down in the last two NYTCo earnings releases. How would you characterize those losses?
Cella Irvine: We were down about 5 percent in Q1 and Q2. You never want to celebrate being down, but we have fared better than many. And we