Layoffs At Millennial-Focused Media Companies: Is Anybody Surprised?

 

The Emperor, It Turns Out, Has No Clothes.

 

A host of media companies targeting Millennials are going belly-up. Finally!

  • Marketing opportunism comes face to face with reality. The days of wild spending and snarky content are over.
  • The fact that smart people got conned for so long is a bit shocking but when a dollar is to be made, people get very creative. The Fyre Festival will go down as the poster child of the flim flam of millennial marketing.

This whole millennial-focused media thing has an element of deja-vu about it. Reminds me of the Details magazine era back in the ‘90’s (after it was acquired by Conde Nast and James Truman was at the helm).

  • That’s the last time, I recall marketers falling hook, line and sinker for this kind of marketing scam – and on this scale.
  • For those of you that don’t recall, a little backstory.
  • Douglas Coupland, a Canadian novelist (not a researcher, a novelist!!) set off a firestorm with his first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
  • In it he popularized terms such as “McJob,” “Generation X” and I believe he may also have coined the term “slacker.”
  • Marketers feverishly glommed onto all things Gen X, as outlined in Coupland’s novel.
  • An entire “slacker” industry was born: advertising agencies, consultancies, media platforms, retailers and consumer goods all dedicated to reaching this elusive Gen X/slacker demographic.
  • I remember being at a meeting at Coca Cola where Wieden & Kennedy presented OK Soda. It was created for Gen Xers who were supposedly clamoring for this kind of “slacker” aesthetic. The product launched in 1993. Total bust, gone by 1995.

The point I’m making is that we’ve been here before.

  • I’m not normally one to look to the past but so much of this millennial frenzy is page-for-page from the “slacker” Gen X playbook – and that didn’t work out very well.
  • Back then, all Gen Xers were lumped together and marketers worked diligently to appeal to this small sliver of stylish, overly-educated creative types who would love an OK Soda. Unfortunately, there were not enough of those Gen Xers to make it work.
  • Strikes me as very similar to how millennials are being portrayed now.

 

Read on below for some examples of millennial media properties from the last few years. Most are especially snarky and brash because, you know, that’s what millennials like.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t also give Bustle Digital Group (BDG) a HUGE shout out. They are cleaning up in the digital media space and making some extremely strategic purchases at fire sale prices. Definitely one to watch.

 

BRIEF (AND INCOMPLETE) HISTORY OF MILLENNIAL MEDIA:

 

Vice Media

  • Founded 1994
  • Laid off 10% of its staff this week

Refinery 29 (R29)

  • Founded in 2005
  • Laid off 10% of their staff in late 2018
  • Pivoting to sponsored events e.g. 29Rooms

Mashable

  • Founded in 2005
  • Major layoffs after selling to Ziff Davis Tech
  • Pete Cashmore, the founder, also left late last year

Pop Sugar

  • Founded in 2006
  • Laid off 5% of their staff in 2018 and cut back on office free snacks and beverages (you know things are bad, when that happens)!!

BuzzFeed

  • Founded 2006
  • Cut 15% of its workforce so far in 2019

 Jezebel

  • Launched by Gawker in 2007
  • Acquired by Univision in 2016.
  • A mess!!

Vox

  • Rebranded as Vox Media in 2011
  • Brands include: Recode, Eater, Curbed, Vox, The Verge
  • Laid off 5% of staff in early 2018 (primarily from video production)

The Skimm

  • Founded in 2012
  • Going gangbusters, delivering a cutesy take on the news for millennial women. Over 7 million subscribers.
  • I am, however, for the first time hearing that millennial readers are wanting a more mature writing style versus the jokey tone with which it currently delivers the news.

Vocativ

  • Launched in 2013
  • Terminated entire editorial staff in 2017
  • Apparently only creates sponsored videos now?

OZY

  • Launched 2013
  • No word of layoffs/ several articles mentioning hiring
  • Their annual OZY Fest seems to be successful (I was underwhelmed)

The Outline

  • Founded in 2016
  • Laid off all of its staff writers in late 2018

Fusion Media Group

  • Launched in 2016, part of Univision
  • Layoffs/ a complete mess/ Univision trying to unload

Cheddar

  • Launched in 2016
  • No word of layoffs but also no hiring
  • Founded by Jon  Steinberg (formerly of BuzzFeed)

Bustle Digital Group

  • Founded in 2013
  • This brand is on fire!!
  • Making very smart and very strategic acquisitions.
  • They also seem to know the value of a dollar.
  • Many of their new media properties also specialize in experiential marketing (which seems to be where media is headed i.e. off the page/screen and into an IRL experience)

Mic

  • Founded in 2011
  • Laid off most of its staff in November 2018
  • Bought by Bustle Digital Group in a “firesale” for $5 million
  • Anticipating a relaunch this year

Flavorpill – online publisher and experiential brand

  • Launched in 2000.
  • Bought by Bustle Digital Group in 2018.

Gawker

  • Launched in 2002
  • Shutdown after lawsuit in 2016
  • Bought by Bustle Digital Group in late 2018
  • Plans to relaunch the site in 2019

 

Bottom Line.

The chickens are coming home to roost on this most flagrant of millennial media con jobs. Most of the survivors will include a major experiential element e.g. 29Rooms, OZY Fest and the Flavorpill Events.

Unfortunately, we also must be alert to the hucksters who are dreaming up Gen Z versions of this kind of unsustainable and irrelevant media. BEWARE!!

In the meantime, shameless plug for 10 of my favorite news sources – and I dare say most of them appeal to a wide range of ages.

 

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