Native advertising, content marketing, sponsored content — whatever you call it, it’s one of the most powerful currents remaking the publishing business, and Contently is riding right in the middle of it.
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The four-year-old start-up’s investors know they’re onto something big. They’re stumping up $9 million in fresh funding in a Series B venture round that co-founder Shane Snow says will be used “to build the plumbing for the brand publishing industry.”
The new capital comes from three existing Contently backers — Lightbank, Contour Ventures and David Lerner — and from two new ones, Sigma West and Sigma Prime. Snow — recently named one of the FORBES 30 Under 30 in Media — says it will be put primarily to two uses. One is building new tools for the network of more than 27,000 freelancers that Contently uses to produce sponsored editorial for its clients, which include blue-chip marketers like AmEx and Pepsico.
The other is developing software that will help marketers get a better handle on the return on investment they get from the dollars spent on sponsored content. “Everyone’s talking about pageviews and shares and silly metrics like that,” Snow says. “We think that the big question brands are going to have to address this year if they want to be successful at publishing is tying the thread of publsing results to business results
Contently is already doing enough in revenues that it would be profitable if it it weren’t in aggressive expansion mode. (After five recent hires, the headcount stands at 28.)
With new content marketing firms springing up left and right, and with big media companies from The New York Times to Yahoo CNN to the Washington Post (and, yes, FORBES) introducing their own native ads, now is not a time to coast. “Three hundred sixty degrees around this space, there are companies popping up to attack some slice of this industry,” says Snow. “Every day we get emails from friends saying, ‘Have you heard of this company?’ And then we add them to the list.
“It’s a much bigger thing than I thought we were getting into when it started, which is exciting and kind of terrifying,” Snow adds. “I used to surf, and it feels like we were in the water when a big wave came along.”