Thrillist Gets Deeper Into Local Deals Space — But Don’t Call It ‘Deals’

As media companies increasingly look to the local deals space as a way to attract incremental ad dollars and offer an additional layer of services to readers, men’s lifestyle e-newsletter Thrillist is looking for a balanced approach between serving up promotions with merchants that also can be considered content alongside its reviews. The answer is Thrillist Rewards. “We don’t just want these promotions to look like ads, and we don’t just want users to tweet about them; we want other food and lifestyle blogs and sites to pick up these offers and write about what these offers are,” said Mike Rothman, Thrillist’s VP of business development, in an interview with paidContent

The company had been looking at ways to approach the deals space for the past six months, Rothman said, shortly after last May’s acquisition of shopping recommender site Jack Threads. Aside from making sure that it didn’t lose out to other companies, like Gilt Groupe and Groupon, that have been converging on the local space, Thrillist also saw it was a way to solve some practical problems.

For one thing, Thrillist said that as is popularity grew — 2.4 million users get the content across 18 markets and iPhone and Android apps — it found that the $50,000 costs for an ad placement were too high. Secondly, a lot of the businesses it profiled would contact the company and ask to be featured again. Thrillist’s editorial policy don’t allow for repeats in the same year, unless a business has been radically changed, Rothman said.

“We also saw a huge opportunity to fill a void,” Rothman said. “Most of the deals sites out there cater to women. Also, they’re mostly focused on what the discount is. We see this as a content partnership with merchants. We craft special offers that are a bit more creative than just a cheaper price.”

One example Rothman cited was a deal — “We don’t say the ‘D word,’ we prefer ‘merchant partners,'” he said — involving a New York haircutter called Frank’s Chop Shop. The haircutter wanted to offer cocktail specials to bring in more patrons, so Thrillist promoted that and paired it with a table reservation at a restaurant, Milk & Honey. Another example that probably would seem a bit out of place on Groupon is discount on a street fighting class (see image at the left).

Thrillist Rewards launched about four weeks ago to 100,000 New York subscribers. It tends to offer three deals — er, “merchant partnership offers:” each week. The company plans to roll it out to its other locations as well.