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Federated Media Publishing founder John Battelle is stepping aside as CEO and is promoting COO/president Deanna Brown to the top job at the blog ad network. In turn, Battelle will become executive chairman of FM’s Board and chief strategy officer.
When Battelle hired Brown, a former Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) exec, from her post at Scripps Interactive (NYSE: SNI) in September ’09, it seemed he had found the person he was looking for to take on his CEO duties months before.
Instead, Battelle tapped Brown as president/COO and decided that he would hold on to the CEO job after all. But a year later, Battelle has changed his mind back.
In an interview with paidContent, Battelle and Brown talked about the evolution of both their roles. The main idea: this announcement is just formalizing the existing balance between the two execs.
“First of all, I’m not stepping back,” Battelle said. “This is about acknowledging things as they are. It’s been a partnership since day one. Deanna has run the business really well. I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing: focusing on external things, the conference business, meeting with clients, corporate development. None of that changes and I’ll just probably be doing more of that. But the important thing is the CEO office is where where the buck stops. And Deanna’s been in that office for a while.”
As for why he changed his mind again about giving up the CEO title, Battelle said, “It became a apparent a long time ago that this company needed more than just one face.”
Brown added: “I want John to continue his role as a great thought leader. My job is to continue to work with our partners and advertisers.”
Before Brown arrived at FM, the “conversational marketing” blog network had been steadily trying to broaden its focus beyond the original mission of aggregating tech sites and handling ad sales. Over the past year, the San Francisco-based company has a made a series of acquisitions that gave it a hold in the parenting, food and fashion and lifestyles arenas. Brown, has had considerable influence on that direction. Plus, it also fits with her previous experience as GM of Yahoo Media Group’s Lifestyles business unit, which she left in March ’07.
“Before Deanna, we did begin our push into lifestyle –which is codeword for “women.” — and we couldn’t really get there,” Battelle said. “It took someone who knew what she what she was doing.”
Battelle also sited comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) numbers that show that FM now attracts slightly more women uniques than men — 21 million women and 19 million men.
The announcement comes at what FM says is a particularly strong time. Though the company wouldn’t provide dollar amounts, the company is claiming that it has had six consecutive quarters of profitability and a 62 percent growth in “top-line revenue” and a 35 percent gain in ad programs.
Looking back six years ago, when FM was founded, at how the notion of “conversational marketing” has evolved since the rise of Facebook and Twitter, Battelle noted that Facebook is said to be launching a commenting system that media companies would be able to add to their sites. “When I saw those reports, I thought, hey, we started doing that kind of thing back in 2006,” he said. “But it’s great to see how the model is being embraced.”
Brown offered her assessment of how FM succeeded when others couldn’t. “When John pioneered the idea, the ad community was unclear about the value of social media-based conversations. It’s exciting to see the marketing world come around. I was at a major portal and we couldn’t build conversation and a community to save our lives. ”
Brown will be speaking at the paidContent 2011 conference on March 3rd at The Times Center in New York City