Hearst is folding digital ad firm iCrossing into its magazine division, 10 years after buying it for $325 million

By Patrick Coffee

Hearst is quietly folding digital marketing agency iCrossing into the rest of its magazine operation.

The agency will become part of a new Hearst Solutions and Services group, a team of iCrossing, production studio HearstMade, and magazine staffers that work on behalf of ad clients like Toyota, L'Oréal, and Bayer. ICrossing will retain its name for now.

People with direct knowledge said legacy services like SEO and web design would be retired as Hearst's marketing division plans to work more closely with editorial to create branded content for clients.

Former executives said the move also aims to resolve longstanding tension between iCrossing, which was supposed to be a media-neutral company helping clients oversee their ad budgets, and Hearst, which wants to promote its own titles.

A spokeswoman confirmed the move and said the agency would report to Chief Business Officer Kristen O'Hara.

Hearst bought iCrossing as publishers were trying to diversify revenue

Hearst acquired iCrossing for around $325 million in 2010 as publishers bought or launched marketing agencies to diversify revenue as print advertising declined. Hearst also wanted to compete with the advertising holding companies, which were shaken by a 2014-2015 scandal over the lack of transparency in their media-buying practices, a former exec said.

At the time, iCrossing was one of only three large, independent digital agencies; the other two, Rosetta and AKQA, were later acquired by ad giants Publicis and WPP.

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Hearst's idea fell short, insiders say, because Hearst leadership — including former global president Troy Young, who stepped down in July amid reports about toxic culture — clashed over the agency's purpose.

Insiders said iCrossing tried to connect advertisers with audiences by going through top Hearst editors, causing tension with the editors, who argued that the company already had a sales team.

A former exec also said iCrossing initially had limited access to Hearst's production services and data from its magazine readers, which made it hard to win and grow business.

ICrossing expanded to services like brand strategy, media planning and buying, and content production. During the pandemic, it leaned more heavily on Hearst's resources — especially its data — to help clients target readers, former execs said.

Several leaders have also left iCrossing in recent weeks and months, including its top exec, global president Mike Parker. Hearst hired Brendan Moorcroft to run Solutions and Services, succeeding Parker.

One former iCrossing exec said they expected to see further staff cuts as Hearst eliminates overlap between the two in areas like production, strategy, HR, and PR.

Another said many top iCrossing employees, who came from ad agency backgrounds, left after being asked to move to roles at Hearst.

"iCrossing had to pick a lane, and this is it," one said.