December 11, 2013
The Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, as Congress works on avoiding the fiscal cliff. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Capitol Hill publications have a grand tradition of managing a revolving door among key advertising officials, and this morning brought news of another inter-competitor jump: The Hill has hired Adam Prather, a national advertising director at Politico and a veteran of Roll Call and Yahoo!, to serve as its new publisher. He’ll replace Francine McMahon, who’s launching a firm called Capital Image Counsel (CIC).

A release from The Hill sets out Prather’s imperative to “oversee integrated sales, marketing, events and circulation in addition to overall revenue for the brand. He will also continue to build on recent initiatives such as the newly redesigned website and expanded advertising offerings.”

The Hill’s expanded offerings make it sound like other publications in this category, which include Politico, the National Journal and CQ Roll Call. In an interview today with the Erik Wemple Blog, Jimmy Finkelstein, The Hill’s chairman, said that the site will play harder than ever in the gilded sandbox of events and conferences. The newspaper has put on 14 events in 2014, but will up that number in the future and will organize big-time conferences as well. “The fact of the matter is that we want it to be special,” said Finkelstein.

That amounts to a plunge into crowded waters. Both Politico and National Journal are huge orchestrators of events in and around Washington — sponsored breakfasts and the like — that pair up influentials with publicity-hungry companies and trade associations. CQ Roll Call does custom events for clients. Finkelstein said Prather is the “right guy” to spearhead a move into events. “He knows events, he knows the right people to hire to do events,” said the chairman.

In the coming months, The Hill will resemble its competitors in another key respect. After sticking to a free-info model for its Web site and print incarnation, the publication will begin developing “a couple of” paid services, said Finkelstein. These subscription services, said Finkelstein, will be aimed at the people who “need every bit of information that they can get” on certain topics. He declined to get into greater detail on these services.

Call this move an evolution of sorts for The Hill. Back in 2012, Finkelstein didn’t appear eager to get into the premium business, telling the Erik Wemple Blog, “It’s almost more competitive in the paid model than in the free model. There’ll be winners and losers, and I honestly don’t know who they’ll be.” The new paid stuff won’t be a central part of the publication’s business, said Finkelstein today.

The National Journal, CQ Roll Call, Politico and Bloomberg’s BGOV all offer competitive premium information services for lobbyists, corporations, trade associations and other sorts of Beltway players.

As reported here, Congress is on track for a massively unproductive legislative year, a dynamic that frustrates all the Capitol Hill publications. With fewer bills making their way through the institution, after all, there’s less for issue advertisers to advertise about. Meh, suggested Finkelstein: “Look, we’re making money in this environment, so as things get better, we expect to make a ton of money,” he said.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.