Gawker co-founder and CEO Nick Denton sent the digital media world into a tizzy Wednesday by announcing he was stepping down as president and replacing himself with a group of senior managing partners to oversee the media empire. As I scrolled through the list of the anointed, I saw one name that didn’t surprise me, but certainly made me smile: Erin Pettigrew had been promoted from VP of Business Development to Chief Strategy Officer.
According to Digiday, Pettigrew “is the most important person at Gawker you’ve never heard of.” But she’s long been considered a forward-thinker in the ops community, earning a Digital Media Leadership Award from AdMonsters this year. She’s also been a great resource for me over the years for numerous stories, and was a key part in the success of several AdMonsters events. If I am perusing the speaker list for an upcoming conference and see her name, I immediately consider it a must-attend.
The first staffer on the Gawker revenue team, Pettigrew has taken on just about every ops role you can imagine. During the DMLA Panel at the recent Publisher Forum in Austin, she commented that the lack of experience the Gawker staff had in the early days was surpassed by the excitement and enthusiasm to build bold new things.
Her career trajectory has mirrored the massive growth of Gawker itself. And a big part of her ascension up the management ladder revolves around driving Gawker’s content to commerce program, a strategic use of e-commerce linking within content that Denton imagines will one day become a third of Gawker’s revenue.
She commented during the DMLA that learning to think and speak in dollars rather than impressions is essential. “You have to take yourself out of your own operational challenges and understand the dollar value of operations,” she said.
From an ops perspective, Gawker’s content-to-commerce program is a remarkable example of thinking outside the box. Too often we get lost in the minutia of tags, private exchanges, cookies and so forth, but Pettigrew’s quest for new, potent revenue streams has been justly rewarded. At AdMonsters events, we chat a lot about ops getting a seat at the table, but beyond that we encourage our attendees to aim for the C-suite – Pettigrew hit the bullseye.
Note her new role isn’t head of ops or advertising – she’s Chief Strategy Officer. It also includes responsibility for Kinja software, which she gave a presentation on during the 2013 OPS, particularly focusing on the intersection with various ad products like the Gawker Studio.
“Even before she’s formally started, it’s clear Erin will have a transformative effect on product strategy and management,” Denton wrote.
Often at Publisher Forums some variation on this question is asked: Is ops a career path? Seems to us at AdMonsters, Pettigrew has put that query to rest with a definitive “yes.” We look forward to seeing her next leaps and bounds, and celebrate the example she’s set for the ops community. (And of course, AdMonsters would always love to have her as a speaker…)
And I doubt Pettigrew will forget her ad ops roots. “AdMonsters was my very first conference in my professional career and is always the best one to come home to,” she told us.