Man Repeller, the independent media platform famed for its irreverent take on fashion and women’s lifestyle, has begun to serve its brand partners beyond advertising and branded content: its commercial team has begun to build out a brand strategy offering.
Man Repeller first launched as a blog in 2010. It was concepted, written and published by Leandra Medine, a New School student evangelizing the belief that female fashion should exist for the fun of the wearer – and not for the male gaze.
Today the belief is carried forward in Man Repeller’s mission statement: ‘Where an interest in fashion never minimizes one's intellect.’ The site is simply categorized into ‘Fashion’ and ‘Everything Else’ – sections that sit alongside a fairly new e-commerce site and interactive fashion show lookbook.
Based in New York, Man Repeller has remained an independent, bootstrapped publisher, despite its leap beyond fashion and into lifestyle.
Its rejection of funding rounds has meant the brand has grown at a much slower pace than female lifestyle contemporaries such as Refinery29 (now the property of Vice). However, such a business model has also meant it has avoided burning out fast – a fate suffered by the likes of Babe.net and The Pool.
“We've grown like a small business, so our partners are really like our lifeblood,” said Patty Carnevale, head of partnerships at Man Repeller. “We are totally unconventional in our partnerships. We have never been dependent on display media: although it's part of the packet of package that will sell, the approach is extremely custom while staying very true to the brand.
“What we want to avoid is any kind of transactional surface level [deal] that's got a ton of reach. We prioritize depth, always.”
Carnevale, who joined the company from Upworthy in 2016, heads up a team of five. They are, she said, “not a traditional salesforce by any means”: they have shunned an “aggressive outbound process” and pitch projects such as bespoke branded editorial, video and – increasingly – live events.
Their market is companies looking to tap into an engaged audience who are as interested in Louisa May Alcott as much as they are in Louboutin. Prior clients include HBO, Gucci and Topshop.
“In pitches, we really want to know why we are in the room,” said Carnevale. “[We ask:] ‘What problems are you trying to solve? Who you're trying to reach? What are you trying to accomplish?’ And from there then we tailor how we're going to approach that conversation based off what we hear.
“It's much more of a conversation than a pitch style. It’s more consultative.”
The consultative approach has been so successful that Man Repeller is now building out a consultancy business.
The decision to launch such an operation was made after the team began to be pulled into client meetings regarding product development and wider strategy – not just media.
“We recognized our value in that ... in being a thought partner” said Carnevale, “Now we are doubling down on it.”
The company is still finalizing out the structure and market offering of such a team. In the meantime, the partnerships team has already begun working on such briefs when the opportunity arise.
“We don't shy away from any of that business because we know we already have that expertise in the house,” said Carnevale. “That's exciting and we're looking forward to building that. The consultancy piece is really, really huge for us.”
Man Repeller’s in-house talent is just as much a lure for advertisers as its audience, content and tone of voice is. Medine, whose coinage of the term ‘man repeller’ has pushed the phrase into the fashion lexicon, is still the figurehead of the organization and regularly stars in branded content photoshoots and videos alongside her staff.
Meanwhile, members of the editorial team work alongside Carnevale and company to write and produce paid-for content, which is badged accordingly. In fact, two of Man Repeller’s editorial writers have moved over to work on the partnerships team full-time.
“Now we have these deep roots that reach across the company as opposed to [commercial] being very siloed,” said Carnevale. “And our talent itself is for hire, so when we work with brand partners, we are bringing those editors into the brainstorming process. They’re getting the same treatment that anything on Man Repeller.”
It’s a strategy that flies in the face of the ‘church and state’ rule abided by a number of publishers, which separates all editorial staff from the workings of all commercial deals.
But at Man Repeller, the multi-hypenate, blogger-cum-influencer mentality lives on. The combination of the teams is seen as a “superpower” – one that everyone at the company is enthusiastic to strengthen.
“The partnerships team is very much embedded and everyone is in the game of the sale,” said Carnevale. “They want to know when we win pitches. Everyone's part of it.”