The death of conversational marketing

Owen Thomas · 11/21/08 06:00PM

An unproar in the world of tech blogs is uncovering a broader fault line between writers and advertisers. Om Malik's GigaOm and his other blogs have dropped their outside ad-sales firm, Federated Media, a startup run by John Battelle. Federated isn't just another ad network, nor is Battelle just another entrepreneur; he helped start Wired and The Industry Standard and an author of a book about Google, thinks that the future of marketing is conversations. And he launched Federated around that notion. Rather than shouting at readers with ads, marketers will use blogs to engage with their readers — and pay handsomely for the privilege. That's his theory, at any rate, which he is expounding in a forthcoming book.The reality: Battelle's dream of conversational marketing has turned into something more like the schlocky endorsements radio hosts get paid to do. By falling so short of his rhetoric, Federated's experiments have mostly ended in embarrassment, both for him and the bloggers he represents. Last year, he roped Malik and other writers into a scheme to have them recite a Microsoft slogan. And though Battelle apologized for that advertising campaign, he's conducting a similar campaign for Intel — though he has wisely picked so-called "social media marketers" with less journalistic credibility to lose; most already willingly shill for products on Twitter, Digg, and the like. That's the insult. But Battelle's company has also delivered an injury, in the form of an abrupt slashing of advertising rates. GigaOm, TechCrunch, Silicon Alley Insider, and a host of other tech blogs represented by Federated have had their official rates cut 35 percent; deals negotiated with large advertisers are presumably being struck at even steeper discounts. So Malik has taken his business elsewhere, to IDG, the publisher of PC World and several other large technology trades. As with Federated, IDG will sell ads, keep a large portion, and share the rest with Malik's company; 30 to 40 percent is a typical commission in the business. IDG has a vast army of salespeople to serve its print publications; as the print business vanishes, it makes sense to busy them with selling online advertising. Federated, meanwhile, has had to assemble its sales team from scratch. Federated's slogan is that it is "author-driven." What does it say that an author has been driven from its ranks? Malik and Battelle are both savvy businessmen who know each other well. (I have known both for a long time, too, and edited their columns at the late Business 2.0 magazine.) IDG simply cut Malik a better deal, I believe — and no amount of rhetoric about "serving authors" from Federated could make up for the financial shortfall. In every negotiation, the time arrives to wrap up the conversation and strike a deal. (Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid)

Federated Media slashes rates to $5 CPM

Paul Boutin · 11/13/08 01:20PM

John Battelle has his own plan for riding out the holiday ad-buying slump. The founder of online-advertising network Federated Media, which brokers ads for sites like Boing Boing, GigaOm, and Dooce, can't fire writers, but he can cut the price of their ads. John, be careful. Your inbred network is made up of bloggers who are also endorsers, who also shill their own products. Your list of clients is months out of date — it includes Digg and Fark, who long ago dropped Federated. Cut ad rates too carelessly and your Rube Goldberg business model may backfire. I mean this as the highest compliment: If anyone can lay himself off by accident, that someone is John Battelle. Here's the spam that Federated sent to bloggers this morning:

Boing Boing founder's directory of wonderful ads

Paul Boutin · 10/16/08 09:00AM

Mark Frauenfelder launched bOING bOING, an ink-on-paper zine, in 1988. He did the artwork for Billy Idol's 1993 Cyberpunk album, using a Mac instead of a photo studio. Frauenfelder joined Wired when that was considered a foolish move by media professionals. Later he resurrected Boing Boing as a website, then again as a blog in 2000. He's now editor-in-chief of Make magazine. Does this guy have an unlimited supply of cool? Not unless he learns to say no to advertisers who co-opt him.When Frauenfelder appeared in an Apple TV spot a few years ago, his fans loved seeing their fringe-culture hero take over the boob tube. But today ads are jammed full of Internet hipsters. Boing Boing's "band manager," John Battelle, has turned old-fashioned host endorsements into an online art form at Federated Media, his advertising agency. He's holding a conference right now in San Francisco's Presidio, telling eager brand managers that endorsers like Mark Frauenfelder make them part of a conversation with Internet consumers. Battelle builds sites whose ads feature authors on whose blogs he also sells ads. It's a reputational Ponzi scheme far more complex than a George Foreman grill. Maybe that's why I flinch when Frauenfelder's face pops up on my screen with an Adobe logo and a button that says Grab Widget. Mark, if I want a widget, I'll open your magazine and make one myself.

New York Times reporter shills for Dell site

Owen Thomas · 10/14/08 03:40PM

Why is Marc Santora, a respected war correspondent for the New York Times, appearing in ads chattering about mobile technology? Click on the ad, running on sites like VentureBeat, and you're taken to a site, DigitalNomads, which appears to be a collection of blog-filler pablum about the wonders of the wireless Internet. Buried at the bottom is a tiny disclaimer: "Powered by Dell." Dig under the ad-placement code, and you'll see that the ad is sold by Federated Media, John Battelle's online-ad network. Battelle's outfit grew infamous last summer for getting some of the bloggers for whom he sells ads to recite a sponsor's slogan. That last time, it was Microsoft.At no point does Santora mention Dell's name. But his underlying message, that new technological gear helps us all do our jobs better, certainly serves Dell's purposes. I would have thought that the strict Times ethics code would forbid such an endorsement, paid or otherwise. Why bloody the reputation of someone who's taking a bullet to get stories for the newspaper? I've asked the Times what's going on, but haven't heard back yet. Update: Marc Santora has written in to let us know he had no involvement, financial or otherwise, with the ad — which just adds to the headscratching.

Robert Scoble, other Valley bon vivants subject of latest ego-stroking linkbait

Jackson West · 07/29/08 03:00PM

Vancouver-based NowPublic is ostensibly all about citizen journalism. But since Guy Kawasaki sold Truemors to it and signed up as an advisor, it's becoming better known for publishing flattering lists of "influencers," supposedly ranking them according to various social media metrics. The first "Most Public" list focused on New York, but a new list for the Valley and San Francisco is "coming soon." And by virtue of being included in the latest edition, we received an early copy as a press release. Who comes out on top? Ubiquitous attention slut Robert Scoble, naturally. Full list after the jump.

Boing Boing's unapologetic eleventh-hour apologia

Melissa Gira Grant · 07/03/08 04:00PM

Boing Boing's readers, hopped up on free-speech rhetoric, continue to find the tech-culture blog's act of unpublishing unspeakable. Hoping to put the Internet's most enduring drama llama this month to bed, the Los Angeles Times rounded up four members of Boing Boing's staff yesterday for a late-night confab. The result is transcribed here and there, but for those about to launch into a three-day weekend, we salute you with only the most wonderful bits, perfect for around-the-barbeque reblogging. It is at once brilliant and brain-numbing in its inconclusiveness. But if the answer to bad speech is more speech, why not answer an act of unpublishing with more nonwords?

Industry Standard Loser's $22m Vindication

Nick Denton · 04/30/08 03:54PM

Silicon Valley impresario John Battelle was convinced his Industry Standard could bring in $1bn a year; the bubble-era tech magazine was bankrupted by his hubris, and the real-estate binge to house the mini-mogul's dreams of media empire. This time round-with a successful online advertising network called FM Publishing which represents sites such as Boing Boing-Battelle has made sure to cash in before the boom ends, reports Valleywag.

John Battelle takes $22 million in fuck-you money

Owen Thomas · 04/30/08 03:00PM

Anyone telling you that Federated Media, the online ad network which reps Boing Boing, GigaOm, TechCrunch and other blogs, has raised $50 million from investors is dead wrong. It's true, Oak Investment Partners and others paid $50 million for shares of Federated. But only half of that went to the company, we're told; the rest went to founder John Battelle and other employees. According to our source, Battelle's take was roughly 90 percent of the insider shares sold, or about $22 million.

Why Marc Andreessen should stick to his keyboard

Owen Thomas · 04/25/08 11:40AM

Every time Marc Andreessen steps away from his desk, disaster abounds. For the father of the Netscape browser, the creator of the Web as we know it, the legendary barefoot geek from the magazine covers, expectations are way too high. And so the disappointments pile up. The Andreessen of today is not the Marc we remember. His pate has gone from mophead to Klingon; his wardrobe, inevitably a tracksuit with leather shoes, is an utter disaster. And when he speaks, he says absolutely nothing. John Battelle, the slickster salesman-interviewer of bubbles past and present, tried to get some fighting words out of Andreessen on stage at Web 2.0 Expo. He failed, utterly, epicly. Andreessen praised Bill Gates, said competing with Microsoft was interesting, described Microsoft-Yahoo as "a good deal."

John Battelle raises $50 million as AOL snatches away his prize

Owen Thomas · 04/15/08 05:20PM

For once, tech publisher John Battelle has timed a bubble just right. With Wired, where he was a founding editor, he was too early; with The Industry Standard, the tech weekly which crashed and burned early in this decade, a bit too late. But with Federated Media, he's proved his dealmaking prowess. He's all but nailed what we hear is $40 million to $50 million in venture capital for the online-ad network , on a $200 million valuation. And this right before AOL bought Sphere, a blog search engine which, by a rough count, serves more than half of the pageviews Battelle sells to advertisers.

Federated Media to raise as much as $50 million in VC round

Nicholas Carlson · 04/14/08 04:16PM

Federated Media is close to announcing it has won between $40 and $50 million in funding from Oak Investment Partners and others, including Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The Series C round sets the value of the blog-friendly online-ad network at $200 million. Insiders have said past reports of Federated's fundraising were premature, but we hear the news is for real this time. At this point, we'll believe it when we see the term sheet. Do send us a copy? [PeHUB]

Federated Media snags $50 million investment?

Jordan Golson · 04/03/08 07:04PM

A tipster reports that John Battelle's Federated Media ad network just scored a $50 million investment. We've emailed FM but haven't heard back yet.

John Battelle welcomes Henry Blodget into snuggly embrace

Owen Thomas · 02/14/08 02:40PM

Henry Blodget, editor of Silicon Alley Insider, has established himself as a connoisseur of male beauty. And John Battelle is a handsome man. He's also chairman of Federated Media, the online-ad network and paid friend to bloggers, which is more likely where the attraction lies. Blodget has publicly documented on his New York-based tech blog his struggles to find an ad model that works. At last, he has: Toss his banners in Battelle's lap.

John Battelle turns down $100 million offer for Federated Media

Owen Thomas · 01/24/08 05:49PM

When word leaked that John Battelle had hired San Francisco investment bank Savvian to "manage investor interest" in Federated Media, his online-ad network, the move raised a question: How interested were investors? $100 million interested, reports Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch. That's the offer Battelle got, and turned down, from one unnamed investor. Schonfeld also points out this curiosity: At Battelle's last venture, the Industry Standard, the entrepreneur was the one pushing to sell out, not wait for a better offer.

John Battelle's secret to making year-end predictions

Tim Faulkner · 12/24/07 10:00AM

Along with gifts, wassailing, and bah humbugs, the holidays bring an onslaught of predictions for the new year that mostly aren't worth reading. But if you are interested, egoblogger Robert Scoble sits down with the Supremely Tanned One, Federated Media chairman John Battelle, to ask how he manages to make predictions that are remarkably accurate. The secret, replies Battelle to the fawning Scoble, after first congratulating himself for his success rate, is: "A lot of these are not that difficult to predict." It doesn't take the ambiguities of a Nostradamus quatrain to predict that Microsoft would buy its way into advertising, Yahoo would struggle, blogs would get better, and people would call Web 2.0 a bubble. So if you are preparing your own predictions for 2008 and want to achieve a high success rate, don't predict — just state the obvious.