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Marketing Operations

How Complex Networks’ EVP of Marketing Builds Teams to Scale Linear Commerce

June 18, 2021
September 24, 2021
Tracey Wallace

When Jonathan Hunt started at Complex Networks, it was a hybrid media, tech and e-commerce organization. Here's how he structures and managed the marketing team to scale that model.

Table of Contents

This post is based on an episode of MarketerHire's marketing operations webinar, MarketerLive. Scroll to the bottom for the full webinar video.

When Jonathan Hunt first started his role as EVP of Marketing at Complex Networks, the marketing team already owned several products: a physical event, ComplexCon; a virtual event, ComplexLand; and an e-commerce app for sneakers, Sole Collector

In other words, Complex had already embraced linear commerce.

Web Smith first coined the term “linear commerce” back in 2018. It’s a hybrid business model: part media company, part-commerce company.

These types of companies each have what the other wants. Media companies have an audience; e-commerce companies have a product. 

Without an audience, your selling capabilities are limited. Without a product, your revenue streams are limited. 

With both, you’re in a good spot. You could be the next Disney — which built an audience and then launched merch, theme parks and Disney+ — or Glossier —  which started as the beauty blog Into the Gloss and is now worth $1.8B

Hunt knew this first-hand. 

He had been in the media marketing trenches for decades, helping VICE, Vox, National Geographic and now Complex Networks grow strategically, expand their business opportunities and measure impact.

His specialty: leading teams that make linear commerce not just possible, but profitable for media companies. (And he started before people even called it linear commerce!)

Here’s how he structures, recruits and manages his teams. 

The four quadrants of Hunt's marketing org

Hunt never had to sell linear commerce at Complex. Instead, he had to do something arguably harder.  Hunt needed to operationalize linear commerce, scale it, and measure its effectiveness. 

To do that, he organized Complex Networks’ marketing department into four different teams. 

1. Business intelligence.

This team focuses on market research and SEO, which helps build a moat around a linear commerce business. 

SEO helps build long-term traffic, and improves the user experience — ensuring everything Complex does, from content to products, is easy to find in Google search. 

Market research helps Complex understand how its current and desired audiences perceive the latest developments, products, events — and helps them beat their competition to new channels and trends. 

To do this, Hunt’s business intelligence team has built Complex Collective: a panel and survey group of more than 30,000 diverse, young people who serve as the target market for Complex. 

2. Marketing strategy.

This team works across events, several different products, e-commerce and more, developing integrated go-to-market programs that connect new products with their target audience. 

This is the crux of a linear commerce model. Without integrated marketing, your existing audience won’t engage with new developments and products. This team builds hype, converts readers, and grows the lifetime value of every new user on the site. 

3. Public relations.

Even media brands need some good PR. This team has a balanced focus on corporate, B2C communications, and internal communications. 

No linear commerce model would be complete without new launches and product announcements supported by reviews and promotion from trusted external media orgs. 

4. Audience development and paid media.

Can you work in marketing at a media organization and entirely get rid of the term “audience development”? Not yet! Audience development remasin one of the most important and impactful areas of media marketing.

This team focuses on the execution of the marketing strategy, from handling emails and Facebook pages to Instagram push notifications and overlays. They are the operators of the Complex marketing team, and the final part of the linear commerce puzzle. 

How Hunt spots passionate candidates 

Hunt has a specific formula he follows when hiring new marketers. That formula begins with passion and purpose –– not just someone who is there to get a paycheck.

“Everyone wants to be employed, but if you are in marketing, you [should] love what you do,” Hunt said. “It's something you wake up thinking about that you can't shut off because you live and breathe it.”

To get at someone’s passion for the industry, Hunt relies on interview questions like:

  • What got you interested in your marketing specialty?
  • How do you keep up with the latest changes and trends within your industry?
  • What opportunity do you see for someone like yourself within Complex Networks?
  • From your perspective, what are we missing that you can add?

He gauges not just expertise with these questions, but thoughtfulness and awareness of industry trends and problems at large. 

How Hunt knows his team needs more headcount — or clearer priorities 

Marketing isn’t all fun and games, even if you’re passionate about it. It’s hard — especially when leaders assume that marketers capable of a given project also have bandwidth for it. 

Hunt isn’t one of those leaders.

He knows burnout is common in marketing organizations, and even more common during the pandemic. It is one reason many marketers have gone freelance or joined the creator economy –– they want to be able to control their own schedule, not answer to a company with unrealistic expectations.

Here are two signs of potential burnout on your team:

  1. Receiving emails at midnight or on weekends. It usually shows people can’t keep up with work during the daytime.
  2. Deadlines getting pushed back with no clear explanation. This usually indicates a bandwidth constraint. 

“A lot of people, myself included, feel like we have to take on more and do more,” says Hunt. 

But that can impede people’s ability to prioritize, be intentional, and “invest themselves or their budgets into the things that are actually going to push the needle.”

When Hunt hires freelancers

When seeking scalability, Hunt doesn’t rely only on full-time hires. The same way tech and DTC companies hire consultants and freelancers, Hunt uses hybrid hiring models to get projects over the line faster without burning out the team. 

He knows it’s time to hire a freelancer when… 

  1. The project has an end date. Understanding project timelines is key. You don’t want to hire a full-time employee with a firing date in mind — but you might want to hire them to oversee a longer-term effort.   
  2. The project has a shoestring budget.  Budget is a constant factor in deciding between a full-time hire and a freelancer. If you need to prove out a concept to get a bigger budget for a more senior marketing hire, start with a freelancer. 

Why Hunt’s playbook matters for marketers everywhere

Today, Smith’s theory of linear commerce has been proven out even further than it had back in 2019. 

Tech and e-commerce companies continue to acquire media organizations, as a path to first-party data and a wider audience. Amazon’s acquisition of MGM and Hubspot acquisition of The Hustle in 2021 are two just two examples. 

But media companies don’t have to get acquired to pursue a linear commerce business model. Many of them, like Complex Networks, are choosing to become what they seek: e-commerce and technology companies in their own right. 

To do that, they need marketing experts focused on growth, go-to-market, and events in the same way companies like Hubspot have. 

If you’re a marketer trying to succeed in e-commerce, tech, or media, don’t assume those industries are separate — and keep tabs on the scalable playbook Hunt is building. 

Watch the full interview with Complex's EVP of Marketing, Jonathan Hunt, here:

For all the latest updates on MarketerLive's second season, sign up here.

Tracey Wallace
about the author

Tracey Wallace is the Director of Marketing at MarketerHire, the leading digital marketing talent platform. She is also the founder of Doris Sleep, a sustainable bed pillow company. She writes regularly about leadership, e-commerce and tech marketing for MarketerHire, SAP and Entrepreneur.

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