“Just because we’re not following the guidelines of older, more traditional newspapers doesn’t mean we’re not credible,” said Summer Anne Burton, Managing Editorial Director of BuzzFeed. “We know what our readers want and we know how to deliver content to our audience, whether it’s lists and quizzes or 5,000 word long-form features.”
Sitting in BuzzFeed’s “Lil’ Bub” conference room, named after one of the many internet cats the company has made so famous, Burton spoke to NYU-SCPS M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students about the company’s viral success and role as a must-read news source. At BuzzFeed, it’s all about taking a new approach to news delivery. The goofy quizzes and lists still exist (and keep them coming!), but they don’t take away from the site’s journalistic integrity when it comes to the longer, real-deal pieces that are increasingly getting major attention.
Working with a similar creative mindset is BuzzFeed’s ad team. To learn more about the business side of BuzzFeed, students also met with Senior Creative Strategist Joe Puglisi. Early on, he explained, the company decided against banner ads in favor of sponsored content. “They [banner ads] are boring and no one clicks on them,” Puglisi said. Instead, BuzzFeed believes in highly engaging native advertising campaigns. “Everything that we do is meant to look and feel like an editorial post, but we’re not masquerading it [sponsored content] as news,” Puglisi said. “We want it to be fun. We want it to be interesting.” Puglisi noted that the editorial and advertising teams are like “church and state” and do not involve each other in their ongoing projects. But the company mantra prevails no matter what the project: “We’re about identity and inspiration,” said Puglisi.
This approach has lead to BuzzFeed’s explosive growth. Since its creation in 2006, the company has expanded from four employees in a tiny space in Chinatown to offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, and Sydney . “We are growing so fast,” said Kristen McElhone, Senior Publicist. “When I started last November, I was employee number 361 and now we have around 450 employees.”
At the conclusion of our visit, McElhone took us on an office tour. We were bedazzled by the sense of innovation and playfulness that permeates the open workspace. Big, bold OMG and LOL stickers are visible on the walls, computers, and long white work tables; bright yellow pods line a wall so employees can ruminate and come up with creative ideas; conference rooms are all named after famous cats; and a ping pong table sits in the canteen area where weekly meetings with CEO Jonah Peretti take place over a few beers.
Perhaps most exciting for students, there is an expressed desire to hire “diamonds in the rough.” Burton explained that as BuzzFeed continues to grow and change, the company is looking for self-starting, creative minds who can work with little to no supervision to help move the team forward.
“It’s a balance for us as we try to raise our standards, respond to criticism, and evolve without losing creativity,” she said. “We’ve taken a chance on a lot of people, and now what we have is a great team that needs minimal oversight.”
All over the BuzzFeed offices, it was apparent that the dedicated team members were in their own worlds, hard at work creating the next big Internet sensation. This was not your typical newsroom, and the company’s core message was as bold as the red and yellow décor: “Think differently.”
by Ashley Sepanski