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Five takeaways from Vox Media’s CEO, Chairman Jim Bankoff interview at Advertising Week

In an interview with The Information’s Jessica Toonkel, Bankoff describes leading through this moment, how Vox Media is working with advertisers, and accelerated efforts across programmatic, podcasting and consumer revenue 

On stage at Advertising Week, Vox Media’s CEO and Chairman Jim Bankoff joined the virtual stage in an interview with Jessica Toonkel, media and telecom reporter at The Information.

In the 30-minute interview, Bankoff shared his definition of a modern media company, how Vox Media has grown to be the leading news company built in the last decade, how he’s led the company through a tumultuous year and what Vox Media is hearing from advertisers.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation.

Defining a modern media company

“Vox Media has become this amazing platform to grow these multifaceted brands with business models and consumer touchpoints that feed off of one another.”

Bankoff notes a key attribute to being a modern media company is being able to thrive on change. “Whether it’s understanding the changing business models, understanding the changes in editorial coverage, understanding the cultural changes around us and not only responding to them but being part of them and leading throughout them, has been critical,” said Bankoff on stage.

He notes Vox Media’s business is complex, across multiple leading consumer brands, lines of businesses and the platforms upon which the media company delivers content to.

“I don’t think there’s another company that’s been built in the last couple of decades that’s been as successful in establishing big consumer brands and building a strong business based primarily on news and information and modern storytelling,” said Bankoff. “All of [what] we are building is built on modern storytelling, knowing how to engage consumers where they are in ways that are relevant to their lives.”

Leading through a pandemic with empathy

In response to a question on the challenges he faces leading Vox Media through the pandemic, Bankoff responded: “Any conversation about leading through the pandemic needs to start with the people most impacted, who are sick, who have loved ones who have died because of the pandemic, whose lives have been uprooted by not only the pandemic but the multiple layers of disruption that we’ve seen in the world, whether it’s the health crisis created by the pandemic, or what we are seeing play out with systemic racial injustice, or it’s what we are seeing play out with natural disasters with the California fires or storms in the south east.”

He continued: “Whatever your circumstance is, being able to live your authentic life – which has now become a cliche – and understanding what we are all going through and making accommodations so we can all be there for one another has been an area of emphasis, within our company but with our business partners as well.”

Accelerating growth areas across Vox Media Studios, consumer revenue and programmatic

Bankoff notes a number of business lines that have been accelerated for Vox Media over the last few months across programmatic advertising with Concert, affiliate and ecommerce, consumer revenue and subscriptions, and studios, including podcasting.

New York Magazine has seen its digital subscriptions jump, probably double year-over-year to hit record highs on a month to month basis – that’s based on the quality journalism that they have been leading through the pandemic,” said Bankoff. “Our Vox contributions program is a different model, which is not based on paywall but based on supporting their journalism and keeping it free for everyone by making contributions that are voluntary. That has been something we experimented with and has been really resounding success and a different way to approach it that does not involve a paywall.”

Podcast advertising is growing

In response to how Vox Media is working with advertisers, Bankoff said: “We’ve been focused on two words: quality and scale. [We’re focused on] providing quality experiences for audiences and marketers and providing them at scale, with solutions that work. Whether it’s Vox Creative that helps develop impactful programs or really scalable solutions based in video, based in audio, or based in a transactional display unit. You name it, we want to be able to provide it in an easy way.”

“We’re also seeing a lot of robust growth in podcasting. While certain podcast trends have been down during the pandemic, I think the type of programming we produce which is very current, very necessary, very personality-driven too, is doing extraordinarily well in terms of leadership but also advertiser interest,” said Bankoff. “The Vox Media Podcast Network provides a scalable solution and we are seeing bookings for the fourth quarter grow well.”

Bankoff also pointed to the recent launch of the Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America podcast in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and Vox Creative.

The evolution of Vox Media’s relationship with the platforms

“Even though the flavor of the day is to lament the platforms and for good reason – their strength needs to be checked and they need to be held accountable by us, by advertisers, by consumers,” said Bankoff regarding Vox Media’s evolving relationship with the platforms.

Bankoff notes the opportunity platforms like Twitter, Google and even Netflix, have created for companies like Vox Media to scale but touches on the importance for alternatives for advertisers – especially small and medium sized businesses – to have access to to reach audiences.

“We think we are one of them. We can do it at scale – we have a product called Concert that not only allows storytellers to use our touch points with hundreds of millions of audience members, but incorporates other premium publishers into a marketplace that reaches 99% of the internet,” said Bankoff. “[Concert] does it on a national and local basis but does so with brand safety in mind, does so with premium adjacency in mind, does so with viewability, accountability and an adherence to strict data safety principles in mind too.”

Watch the session here: