Colin Gottlieb, the former Omnicom media chief, has joined LadBible Group as a strategic board advisor amid the digital publisher's drive to turn digital "pennies" into "pounds".
The 58-year-old is expected to take a hands-on, "front-line" role, working at least several days a week with LadBible Group’s co-founders, Solly Solomou and Arian Kalantari, who are both 28 and have run the business since 2011.
Solomou, who is chief executive, said part of Gottlieb’s appeal is his experience as a leading British media agency entrepreneur and their shared values as founders who are "driven by a love of business, not just a job".
Gottlieb co-founded Manning Gottlieb OMD in 1990 and later became chief executive of Omnicom Media Group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa over a 29-year period.
He stepped down from Omnicom, the world’s second-biggest ad agency group, at the end of August and his decision to take a front-line role at a digital upstart media owner is likely to come as a surprise to former colleagues.
LadBible Group claims to reach 70% of 16- to 34-year-olds in the UK across its own sites and social media, plus it has other large, young audiences in the US and Australia.
It has an audience of more than 300 million people a month around the world, putting it in the top 10 media companies by global unique online reach, according to data cited by LadBible Group from analytics business Tubular Labs.
Solomou said he wants Gottlieb to help the publisher make more money from its users.
"We’re very much earning pence in comparison to, say, a Channel 4 where they are earning pounds per each of their audience members but have many more years’ experience of maturing that model," Solomou said. "The opportunity for us is to work that pence into pounds."
LadBible Group's most recent accounts for 2017 show that it brought in revenues of £15.3m, chiefly from advertising and commercial partnerships, and it is understood that turnover has more than doubled since then.
The company has been profitable since launch, according to Solomou.
Solomou said Gottlieb will "develop and strengthen the group’s commercial offering to brand owners and agencies, and will mentor the businesses’ commercial teams".
Return to entrepreneurial roots
Gottlieb said he saw a lot of potential to drive revenues in many areas, including commerce, events and ROPO (research online, purchase offline), and by expanding editorial coverage such as esports and travel.
"My experience at Omnicom was incredible and leaving was a massive wrench – but the chance to return to my entrepreneurial roots and tackle a front-line position was just too enticing to ignore," he said.
"Solly’s invitation to join his amazing crew and help them achieve their ambitious goals was irresistible. At a time of increasing change, I can’t think of anything more exciting."
Solomou said Gottlieb "brings a unique set of skills", explaining: "He’s an entrepreneur, agency founder, network leader and an incredible business and commercial strategist – an absolute titan.
"When we started talking with Colin about what was next, it was clear that there was common ground – a passion for delivering high-quality work."
Solomou continued: "With his experience, knowledge and hunger for getting things done, he’s going to help us transform what we currently offer brand owners and media agencies.
"We’re all going to learn a lot from Colin and we’ll teach him some new tricks too."
Solomou and Kalantari have known each other since the age of 11 in Stockport, just outside Manchester, and they describe LadBible Group as "a northern success story".
They have close links with the wider Manchester digital scene and Mahmud Kamani, co-founder of fashion retailer Boohoo.com, is a minority shareholder in LadBible Group.
The publisher, whose websites include LadBible, Unilad and SportBible, has grown at a time when young audiences have migrated online and traditional print lads’ magazines such as Nuts, Zoo, FHM and ShortList have shut.
Kalantari said LadBible Group is growing by focusing on three pillars of content: getting the audience to laugh, to think and to act.
The LadBible has worked with some notable advertisers, including the British Army,
It won two Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions festival last year for its work on Trash Isles with the Plastic Oceans Foundation and AMV BBDO when they submitted an application to the United Nations on World Oceans Day to recognise a huge mass of ocean waste as an official country.