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Refinery29 Lays Off 34 Staffers in Latest Sign of Digital-Media Malaise

Refinery29 has pink-slipped 34 employees, with the digital media player citing a “challenging” advertising environment for the layoffs.

The New York-based company said the cuts represent 7.5% of its workforce, leaving it with around 420 employees worldwide. Refinery29 targets young female audiences with a mix of news, lifestyle, and video content.

Refinery29 co-founders and co-CEOs Philippe von Borries (above right) and Justin Stefano announced the cuts in an internal memo Thursday, and said the outlook for 2018 is that the digital-media sector will continue to face headwinds.

“As dozens of content companies have been funded over the past 48 months, we’re seeing a correction in the digital media space,” the co-founders wrote. “This is a time where the strongest businesses with the most meaningful brands and diversified revenue streams will continue to shine — and thrive.”

The Refinery29 layoffs, first reported by Business Insider, come after cutbacks by other digital-media outfits.

BuzzFeed last month axed 100 employees (7% of its workforce), and Mashable let go 50 staffers after its sale to Ziff Davis (representing about 30% of its headcount) at the fire-sale price of $50 million. This fall, Creators Media, publisher of entertainment-fandom site Movie Pilot, laid off well over half its staff — upwards of 80 employees — in what it said was a pivot to video prior to selling majority control to France’s Webedia.

Von Borries and Stefano, who started Refinery29 in a Brooklyn apartment in 2005, have grown the company into a global digital-media operation — and, like its peer group, the company has invested increasing resources in original video production.

Refinery29 has raised $125 million in funding, including a $45 million round last year led by Turner Broadcasting. Other investors include WPP, Hearst, Scripps Networks Interactive, Stripes Group, Floodgate, Lead Edge Capital, First Round Capital and Lerer Ventures.

The layoffs will give Refinery29 “the flexibility to focus resources on the growth engines for the business,” according to von Borries and Stefano’s memo. Those include long-form scripted and unscripted video, live entertainment such as its 29Rooms events; and “strategic M&A that can help us to further accelerate our goals,” they wrote.

Here’s the full memo from von Borries and Stefano:

Team R29,

This year has been a challenging one, not just politically and socially, but as it relates to the worlds of media and advertising. Yet, even in this difficult span of time, our business has grown, we actively diversified, and the Refinery29 brand and its expansive impact have never been more palpable, something all of you have made possible.

We are not immune to the challenges and tough decisions that come with adapting to this turbulent moment in time, despite our growth and momentum. As a leadership team, we must ensure the enduring success and influence of Refinery29 in the years ahead. And, in this particular moment that means tightening our belt in order to invest in the future. The consequence of this decision means we will part ways with 34 members of our team, or approximately 7.5% of our workforce.

This was a hard choice that we understand will have impact. Those R29’ers that will be leaving us have poured an incredible amount of heart, skill, and dedication into their roles here. We care about each one of them deeply, and we could not be more grateful and proud of everything they have accomplished and brought to Refinery29 during their time with us.

Looking ahead to 2018, we foresee that many of the challenges in our industry will likely continue — which is why we’re moving forward with clarity and resolution. As dozens of content companies have been funded over the past 48 months, we’re seeing a correction in the digital media space. This is a time where the strongest businesses with the most meaningful brands and diversified revenue streams will continue to shine — and thrive.

Against the backdrop of these dynamics, we are giving ourselves the flexibility to focus resources on the growth engines for the business. Some of these include: Original Content Creation (everything from long-form scripted and unscripted video to popular editorial franchises that can grow into their own worlds); Live Entertainment (a strong area of growth for us with our 29Rooms franchise); R29 Intelligence (the research and data engine that informs everything we do from creative to commercial); as well as strategic M&A that can help us to further accelerate our goals.

Our mission and impact as a company has never been greater and more necessary in the world and in people’s lives. In the coming years, we will continue our evolution from a digital advertising company to a diversified media company that shows up in original video content, TV, films, social, books, products and live entertainment.

We know those who are exiting will go on to do great things and will always be R29 alumni. Please join us in expressing gratitude and support for their immense contributions to R29.

Thank you,

Philippe & Justin

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