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ElectNext morphs into Versa Media Network to connect sponsored op-ed content creators with publishers

If an inter­ac­tive media net­work rais­es an addi­tion­al $700k in seed fund­ing bare­ly a year after rais­ing its first $1.3 mil­lion, most busi­ness devel­op­ment man­agers would con­cede that it’s prob­a­bly got rather a lot going for itself.

New York media start­up Ver­sa, which began life as the polit­i­cal­ly-focused media net­work “Elect­Next” in 2011, falls into this select cat­e­go­ry, cour­tesy of a round led by The Omid­yar Net­work with par­tic­i­pa­tion from pre­vi­ous investors Quo­tid­i­an Ven­tures and new investors the Knight Foun­da­tion, bring­ing the startup’s total fund­ing to $2 million.

Name change, focus change 

Inno­v­a­tive busi­ness devel­op­ment man­agers intrigued by clever ways of dri­ving online adver­tis­ing sales will clear­ly be inter­est­ed in the answer to two key ques­tions: why the change of name, and what’s on offer now?

When it raised its ear­li­er round under its orig­i­nal moniker, the com­pa­ny focused on sell­ing pub­lish­er wid­gets that could dis­play con­tex­tu­al polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion. But CEO and founder Keya Dan­nen­baum began to fig­ure out a core prob­lem for pub­lish­er clients. They want­ed to find a way to mon­e­tize hith­er­to unmon­e­tized parts of their sites AND enhance the news­read­ing expe­ri­ence for visitors.

And so the idea of a meta­mor­pho­sis of sorts was hatched. Elect­Next became Ver­sa Media Net­work, con­nect­ing online pub­lish­ers with groups and orga­ni­za­tions pre­pared to pay to get their con­tent and views fea­tured in relat­ed arti­cles. As the can­ny busi­ness devel­op­ment man­ag­er will imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize, this is con­tent mar­ket­ing with a sub­tle and rel­e­vant edge.

Beyond pol­i­tics?

For exam­ple, Real­Clear­Pol­i­tics pub­lished a piece explor­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties expe­ri­enced by the Oba­macare web­site. Versa’s tech­nol­o­gy ana­lyzes news offer­ings as they’re pub­lished and alerts the orga­ni­za­tions on its client list which might be inter­est­ed in respond­ing. Maxwell Health was fea­tured in an accom­pa­ny­ing arti­cle offer­ing its own thoughts on the problems.

Dan­nen­baum con­cedes that tim­ing is key: pub­lish­ing a response a few days after an arti­cle has appeared isn’t like­ly to get much read­er­ship, but most respons­es are in the bag with­in an hour. Pub­lish­ers can also rest assured that their own con­tent qual­i­ty stan­dards apply to all spon­sored respons­es via Versa.

The tech­nol­o­gy is now mov­ing out of beta and, accord­ing to Dan­nen­baum, the empha­sis is like­ly to spread beyond the pure­ly polit­i­cal. She said, “I don’t think this set­up is vertical-specific.”

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