Marketing financial products promises far higher profit margins than the online “affiliate” companies that underpin the New York Times’ websites like Wirecutter. While a publisher recommending a gadget on Amazon can earn a single-digit percentage of a buyer’s purchase, the “bounties” paid to Red Ventures for referring a consumer to a Chase Visa Sapphire Reserve credit card or American Express Rose Gold Cards range from $ 300 to $ 900 per card.
The arrival of the Red Ventures executives did not always go down well with journalists working under Mr. Elias. Like members of a medieval guild (the guild hall is Twitter), journalists are more attached to the folk tunes of their profession than any corporate culture, and some roll eyes and song at the Red Ventures Rah-Rah retreats with fireworks. More worryingly, some reporters from The Points Guy, which also covers the travel industry in general (it has been a comprehensive source of information on where vaccinated Americans can travel), have complained that the new owners have removed the already shaky wall between the Pages eroded on the site have eroded service journalism and the credit card sales that fund it.
Red Ventures is “all about profit maximization,” said JT Genter, who left the facility more than a year ago. He and other Points Guy writers said they weren’t pressured to post stories they found dubious – in fact, the site has occasionally offered carefully critical coverage of Chase and American Express, their dominant business partners. However, he noted that Points Guy journalists are required to attend regular business meetings detailing how much money the site is making from credit card sales, which some see as an implied recommendation to keep your thumbs on the scales.
Mr Elias said Red Ventures had a “non-negotiable line” on the editorial independence of its websites, adding that he had given CNET staff his cell phone number and instructed them to call him in case they ever came under pressure from the business side should.
“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they said, ‘Okay, we’ll see,'” he said.
Red Ventures’ roots in marketing, its investments in technology aimed at selling you, and its almost casual attempt to provide trustworthy, even journalistic advice to readers, have resulted in an odd mix. And the company’s Silicon Valley style only goes so far. Most employees do not receive equity in the company, and lunch is not free, only subsidized.
However, the company offers a maximally happy workplace with inspiring slogans printed in cheerful fonts on the walls of its atrium. What executives said most often was “Everything is written in pencil,” a motto that makes sense for a company that has grown almost entirely from its marketing origins to a leading provider of service journalism. And executives seem to have internalized the idea of selling trust, even if they don’t put it in the language of journalism professors.
“Brand and trust are at the heart of what we do,” said Courtney Jeffus, president of the company’s financial services division, which includes Bankrate. “If you lose brand trust, you have no business.”