Issue Emergency,  published February 26, 2019

Breaking: Two Top Stitcher Executives leave for ART19

I’ve learned that Korri Kolesa and Lex Friedman, Stitcher’s Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Business Development Officer respectively, are leaving the company to take up executive positions at ART19. There, Kolesa will assume the role of Chief Operating Officer, while Friedman will serve as Chief Revenue Officer.

According to a statement from ART19, the hires come as part of an effort to “expand its suite of technology products to advertisers and connecting them more efficiently with content creators.”

In case you need a refresher: ART19 is a California-based podcast technology company whose platform supports publishers like, well, Stitcher. (Also, Wondery.) I brought them up in this morning’s newsletter when discussing Megaphone’s success at peeling away some of their clients.

With these C-suite additions, it seems that ART19 is looking to assume a more aggressive stance. “We are excited to have Korri and Lex join the team,” said ART19 CEO Sean Carr in a statement. “Their technology backgrounds, advertiser relationships, and proven success at monetizing podcasts makes them a perfect fit to spearhead our expansion efforts.”

Kolesa departs after slightly more than two years at Stitcher, where she worked to expand the company’s sales infrastructure. Friedman, meanwhile, leaves after six years at the company, after his own podcast advertising venture, Podlexing, was ingested into what is now known as Midroll in 2013. He was part of Stitcher/Midroll Media leadership through the Jeff Ulrich and Adam Sachs years, along with the acquisition by EW Scripps in 2015.

Gotta be honest: I can’t quite wrap my head around the notion of two experienced podcast sales operators decamping for an audio platform that provides hosting, distribution, ad-serving, and measurement tools — and not an actual podcast advertising marketplace. So what, exactly, will Kolesa and Friedman be doing there?

Well, turns out, an advertising marketplace is in development.

“When we say we will ‘expand technology for advertisers,’ what we’re getting at is this: While brands continue to enter the podcast space at a steady pace, they still find it lacking in terms of the technical capabilities,” said Friedman, when reached for comment. “We’re going to fix that. Advertisers will soon discover that ART19 can offer them the same abilities as other effective online ad units, which will unlock more spend — and better reward podcasters in the process.”

He added:

The medium has pushed the host-read ad really successfully. And as we all know, those ads get really difficult to scale. We won’t be the first company in the space to talk about targeting and programmatic and all that, but we’re coming to it from a perspective that is equally focused on technology, creators, advertisers, and listeners: Our job will be to find ways that no ART19-podcast goes under-monetized again. We’ll be working to make sure audio is monetized to its fullest extent, in a way that works for advertisers and listeners alike.

That will definitely include working with advertisers to show them new ways to succeed in this medium.

In the wake of the twin departures, Greg Leader will serve as Stitcher’s interim head of sales. Leader, who has been at the company for just under four years, was previously a regional VP of sales and a senior member of the sales team. Drew Welborn, Stitcher’s VP of partnerships, will assume additional business development responsibilities.

Stitcher is currently searching for a new Chief Revenue Officer.

“We thank Lex and Korri for their contributions to Stitcher’s tremendous growth in ad sales and wish them the best,” said Stitcher CEO Erik Diehn, when reached for comment. “As the leader in podcast advertising, Stitcher has added major national brands to our roster of advertising clients, while forming or renewing partnerships with high-profile creators including Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, Conan O’Brien, Marvel and Vox Media. All of this important work will continue with our strong team — including a 25-person-and-growing sales force.”

When asked about his departure, Friedman wrote: “Leaving Stitcher (née Midroll, née The Mid Roll) is bittersweet. I loved being a part of the team that built that business, and truly helped define the entire industry. Stitcher has a bright future ahead, and I’ll miss the people and the work very much. I wish them nothing but success.”