More news out of Gawker today. Sales boss Chris Batty is leaving to start his own venture, and he’s bringing fellow salesman Michael Casco with him.
In an email to staff explaining the move, Gawker boss Nick Denton says, “Chris and I diverge seriously over strategy. That spilled over into unhealthy conflict between editorial and sales.”
But, things must not have gotten too bad between Denton and Batty, because he also says, “Gawker Media will be both a partner and an investor” in Batty’s new advertising venture.
Here’s the email from Denton to the staff:
Yes, this may be a shock to some of you. Chris Batty and Michael Cascio, Gawker Media’s long-time head of sales and marketing and sales leader, are leaving the company at the end of December. In the new year, we will begin a search for a replacement; we will be looking at candidates both from the digital world and those with TV experience. Chris will coordinate the recruitment. Applicants should contact him directly. In the interim, the sales operation will be overseen by Gabriela, who first brought Chris in.
It’s easier than usual to give the corporate bromides about departing colleagues — because Batty and Cascio have such an impressive track record. No exaggeration is needed. Under Chris — and with help from Gaby Darbyshire’s international deals — the company’s annual revenue has increased tenfold. The increase since 2005 translates into a 56% annual growth rate. This quarter will be by some margin our largest ever. Chris and Michael are ending on the highest of notes.
Here’s just a selection of the great calls that Chris made: the eviction of the ad networks that were undercutting our premium positioning; the establishment of a creative services unit to work on custom implementations for clients; sponsored posts, advertorial content in the main flow of the sites; the introduction of custom marquee and panorama units commanding higher rates than standard IAB units.
Above all, he pushed Gawker Media to professionalize: to go beyond the fly-by-night approach of the early years, recognise that we had become a serious business, and push for proper office space, 401k plans and the other trappings of a real company.
I’ve known Chris a decade, since in San Francisco he nearly siphoned off $500,000 from my last company, an act of salesmanship which cemented my respect for his talents. Sure, we’ve rowed over everything from politics to page layout. But that’s been part of the fun; and the arguments have generally led to better decisions.
There is one disagreement that became harder to attribute to creative tension. Our sites are allergic to corporate boilerplate, so I’m going to be explicit. Chris and I diverge seriously over strategy. That spilled over into unhealthy conflict between editorial and sales. The clash is not quite as simple as audience versus revenue. After all, it’s that ever-growing and upscale readership that draws advertisers; and, as Chris often pointed out, it’s ad sales that fund editorial. The two should be in symbiosis.
However, of all media companies, Gawker Media is one that has built itself around audience growth, in the belief that advertising will follow. That isn’t the only media strategy available; it just happens to be the one that we chose; and it is to that which everybody signs up when joining the company.
Chris will be launching a new advertising venture; Gawker Media will be both a partner and an investor. I’m glad he will have the opportunity finally to be his own boss — as other Gawker alumni such as Lockhart Steele and Choire Sicha have done.
As for Gawker’s own future plans: tomorrow afternoon, Tom will present the upcoming release of the sites; Gabs will run through the proposed ad offering associated with it; and I will try to explain how it all hangs together in the 2011 plan, a written copy of which is being sent to you.
I’m not going to say any more now. I’m assuming you’ll need today to begin digesting the news. Gabs will be contacting you to schedule a session tomorrow morning for sales and marketing, to deal with your questions. Chris and Michael will kick off the meeting. And of course Gabs and I are both around today for anyone who wants to talk.
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