At Adweek, Head Of Product Development Rob Keenan Maps Tech Strategies

Feb 26, 2024

When you’re a publication called Adweek, building out a subscription strategy that’s vital to the brand’s growth has to come with a bit of self-awareness. Advertising, naturally, is a big deal too. For Adweek Vice President of Product Rob Keenan, it’s a question of balance, even while pursuing a subscription business, which Adweek sees as a longer-term win. We were impressed with a very detailed and coherent presentation Keenan delivered at a recent conference, and we were eager to reflect that presentation to our Fox Tales audience. We were also intrigued about the definition and scope of a product-development professional in the media context. So we caught up with Rob for one of our popular “5 Questions With…” interviews. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.

Rob Keenan.

Fox Tales: In the media context, what is the typical portfolio (including priorities in order) for a product-development executive—particularly in B2B and perhaps association media too.
Rob Keenan: On the product-development front, I have two main functions. The first is to help develop products to drive engagement and revenue through our audience. This includes working with our content, sales, and marketing teams on new-product development as well as on developing new features for products. Products could include new editorial capabilities, new sales opportunities, SEO efforts, subscription products, and more.

On the development side, I managed the day-to-day operations of our development team. We have developers both here and abroad and it’s my product team’s job to take priorities from our business and content teams and turn those into products that are being tackled by our developers.

Fox Tales: More specifically, in your current role, what’s the extent of your purview? Clearly it includes the tech stack and subscription development, performance and measurement.

Keenan: In this role, I’m really tasked with guiding the tech stack for the company and working closely with our audience and analytics teams on guiding our audience/subscription strategies. At the same time, it’s my job to be continually evaluating new technology options, such as generative AI, and looking for ways that we can best leverage these in our business. In essence, my team sits at the intersection of business and tech and is here to bring our digital initiatives to life.

Fox Tales: How does a paywall strategy (or a metering strategy) affect advertising? You’d think it would limit reach.
Keenan: There is definitely a balance that you have to walk when you are blending a subscription model and an advertising model, especially when you’re Adweek. There is no doubt that digital advertising is still an important part of our business model. But, we see the long-term win as running a healthy subscription business. The key is to make decisions on what the subscription model will look like and to understand that, even if behind a paywall, ads will still appear (at least for us). Also, we believe the win will be having quality traffic over quantity of traffic, which subscriptions allow you to achieve.

Fox Tales: Similarly, what elements of the tech stack are drivers of successful advertising?
Keenan: Clearly, the work you do to optimize your site for SEO is a key way that we will continue to drive traffic to Adweek. Newsletters also continue to play an important role in our advertising business. But we do see an opportunity to add native advertising in our newsletters to our display ad model. We’ve dipped our toe in now, and will push to add more native ads in our newsletter products.

Fox Tales: How much do c-suite execs need to know about the nuts and bolts of these technologies and the suppliers who pitch them.
Keenan: In my mind, I think it’s critical for our execs to understand the tools we use and why we use them. Fortunately, Adweek has executives with a long history of experience in the digital space. With that in mind, they provide valuable insights into our systems and the vendors we choose. When we have buy-in up and down the chain, we often have greater success with our stack and vendor partners.