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Snap is unlocking a crucial growth driver with high-profile media hires

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
Michael Lynton, Snap chairman & former chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Investors and teens aren’t the only ones flocking to Snap Inc. (SNAP), the parent company of ephemeral photo-messaging service Snapchat. A handful of veteran media executives joined Snap before its splashy public debut on Thursday.

In addition to forging content partnerships with publications like Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Vice, ESPN, CNN and others in its featured section, Snap is looking to stretch beyond ephemeral messaging and become a destination for quick and digestible news items.

Michael Lynton, the former CEO of Sony Entertainment, was one of Snap’s earliest investors and board members. In January, he announced that he was leaving Sony (SNE) to serve as full-time chairman at Snap. He will remain with Sony until July to oversee the transition. According to Snap’s 424(b)(4) filed prior to its public offering, Lynton had 1,454,913 Class A shares, or 0.22% of the company. 

In addition to Lynton, Snap has poached high-profile media executives like former Time Magazine editor Rick Stengel, veteran Vanity Fair contributing editor Betsy Lack and former CNN reporter Peter Hamby to take top positions in forging relationships with media and ad companies.

Lynton alluded to the fact that Snap would want to conquer the media realm, even creating its own content like “Good Luck America,” Snapchat’s own video series it rolled out during the 2016 election. “They really want to talk about their part of it as they look out at the media landscape, where should they fit in — the music business, the movie business, the television business — both in terms of a platform to promote, but as well as how they themselves should be delivering content,” Lynton told Recode last year.

Snapchat first appeared on Lynton’s radar when his wife, Jamie Alter Lynton, noticed their three daughters were hooked on the app — so much so that she reached out to Spiegel to learn more about the company. Since then, Lynton has become an investor, board member, and now executive of Snap. He’s even an early adopter, having used the service “since there were like 25,000 people on it — Snapchat now has 158 million daily active users. 

Another seasoned media executive, Stengel — who was most recently under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department — will join Snap as a senior advisor. Prior to his post in the Obama administration, he was managing editor of Time Magazine. He is also a fellow at the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Having experience in both media and government, Stengel will be able to weigh in on issues surrounding regulation, public safety and cybersecurity, particularly in light of the fake news epidemic plaguing Facebook (FB).

In another strategic move, Snap hired Lack, a former editor at Vanity Fair who ran the company’s profitable New Establishment conference. She started at Snap as head of global brand partnerships last summer. A year prior to her hire, Snap snagged top political reporter at CNN, Hamby, to join the company as head of news. While Facebook has gotten rid of its team of curators, Snap has been relying heavily on individuals and media veterans to refine a clear vision as it wades into the muddled water that is digital media.

Joanna Coles, the first-ever content editor for Hearst Magazines and former Cosmopolitan editor, is on Snap’s board of directors. She is, notably, the only female among the company’s executive officers and non-employee directors. As of Thursday morning, she owned 12,370 shares of Snap stock.

Snap has been smart to double down on individuals who come from traditional media, as they possess the gravitas and existing connections to drive the company toward profitability.

Imran Khan (R), chief strategy officer of Snap Inc., waits for shares to open for trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

But perhaps Spiegel’s highest profile hire was one of his earliest, but not a veteran of the traditional media industry. Spiegel nabbed Imran Khan, the former head of Asia investment banking at Credit Suisse in September 2014. Khan is best known for orchestrating Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s (BABA) high-profile IPO in September 2014. Two months later, in December, Snap scooped him up. As the company’s first chief strategy officer, he was a core part of readying the company for its IPO. Khan, according to the 424(b)(4) had 1,418,868 shares, or 0.21% of Snap, as of Thursday.

“We rebranded our company to Snap Inc. because we are bigger than just one app. Snap Inc. is a camera company—we believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate,” he said during a keynote presentation at Dmexco.

His experience as both someone who can close a deal and has a firm grasp on the internet sector made him a critical hire, and one who likely carved out an opening to bring on other big-name individuals. He was the key to Alibaba’s decision to invest $200 million in Snapchat a few months after he came on board.

Investors have been both bullish and bearish on the fact that Spiegel is so young (he’s 26). But, in a move wiser than his years, he’s surrounded himself with old-school folks who have been in the game a little longer than he has. And they may be the key to Snap’s huge growth spurt.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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