Rich Antoniello started with a magazine and built an online advertising giant.
The former national sales director at National Geographic Adventure joined Complex Media, the company founded by Marc Ecko, as CEO in 2002. In the gig, he oversaw the magazine of the same name as well as its digital counterpart, Complex.com.
In 2007, the former ad man founded Complex Media Network, a digital network that now includes 66 sites amassing around 330 million page views per month.
CMN is now responsible for 85% of the company’s revenue and will reach 95.5% in the coming months. Top line revenue for the entire organisation has increased by triple digits in each of the past four years. Complex Media now boasts 86 staffers, up more than double from roughly 18 months ago when they took a capital infusion from investors including Accel Partners and Austin Ventures.
Life is good for Antoniello, who spoke with The Wire over ice tea at Markt near his office in Manhattan’s west 20s.
He believes the key to success has been a focus on both the consumer and the advertisers. The staff at CMN picks and chooses sites that get incorporated into the network, which allows them to keep the quality high and distinguishes CMN from other similar but less exclusive ventures.
“It takes a little bit more time to find the right site from a qualitative and quantitative prospect,” Antoniello says. “I don’t think most networks give a shit about what the consumer thinks. I think they are thinking about the buy side 100% and are trying to go numbers, numbers, numbers.”
Because of this selectivity, campaigns consistently outperform the industry average by “5-, 10-, 15-fold,” according to the CEO. This success allows his sales people to keep the CPMs high. (The average CMP jumped 22% in 2010.)
The vast majority of CMN’s 330 million monthly page views — 77% to be exact — come from style- or product-focused pages. The natural extension of this, it would seem, is to find a way to make money selling those products. And that’s the next step for Antoniello and his crew.
“The transactional side of that business is something that we are in the middle of attacking in a very large way. We’re not going to apply some affiliate layer. That is not our solution. We want to get much more in depth. Whether that’s a white label private sale or other things along those lines, we’re evaluating a multitude of options,” Antoniello says.
“We’re in some very interesting talks, let’s put it that way.”
He hopes the venture — whatever it is — will roll out in six to seven months, just in time for the holiday season.
“I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but we have the whips out.”
And then there’s Complex, which is a small but profitable part of the business. Antoniello, who calls his editorial side staffers “content developers” because they produce writing for the print and digital side, doesn’t see it going away soon. The cache of having a print product remains high, and they have figured out an effective way to put out the magazine without it taking up too much bandwidth.
Complex.com is also on a roll, racking up between 2.5 and 3 million uniques and 37 million page views a month. It gains plenty of those page views because of slide shows, but Antoniello — a self-avowed Bleacher Report fan — believes that the 21- to 29-year-old guys his site primarily serves enjoys reading them. (And he’s right.) As long as the slide shows are original content, he’ll happily deliver.
“To bash somebody for fishing where the fish are, that’s insane,” he says.
An exploding advertising business, a profitable magazine, a dedicated online audience ready to purchase products your publication champions; that’s not a bad business model.
Antoniello says the goal is to keep building the business, both the core functions and the e-commerce space, but in “12 to 18 months” it will be time to consider a sale or the next big step.
Right now, however, he’ll keep wearing the same shoes. They fit him well.
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