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Pitchfork Media Finance VP Talks Getting Into Print, Organizing Festivals

By Jacob Nelson

What was your path to your current position at Pitchfork? I started as an intern at Pitchfork in October of 2005, prior to that I had worked as a bookkeeper for a couple manufacturing companies out in the suburbs while I completed my bachelor’s program at DePaul. From my internship, I dabbled a bit in ad sales at the company before becoming an administrative assistant. When my supervisor left the company a couple months after I graduated, I was promoted to General Manager with the opportunity to improve and streamline a lot of our day-to-day business operations. As the company continued to grow, I continued to look for opportunities to expand and develop my role and in 2013 I was promoted to VP of Finance.

What is your day to day like at Pitchfork?  My day to day varies greatly. I spend a lot of time in meetings and on calls with our executive team developing our strategies, budgets and planning for new hires. I handle all of our AP and AR as well as our HR, so I’m back and forth with clients, vendors and employees all day. It’s very much a mixed bag.

Pitchfork is unique in many ways, but perhaps one of the most unusual things about it is that at a time where many print publications are going digital only, Pitchfork has expanded to print. As the VP of Finance, can you talk about the motivations for that decision? The Pitchfork Review is a passion project that allows us to focus on long form content and feature content that has a more timeless quality to it and is difficult for us to find a place for on the site. It also allows for us to package, design, and deliver that content in a different way.

Working for Pitchfork puts you in two industries that have been seriously affected by the advent of digital media: music and journalism. How have you seen that play out in your current job, and your career in general? Pitchfork happened at an incredibly important time where we were able to do something that few others were doing on the same scale and we were able to do it with relatively low overhead. I think the other piece that has been important has been consistently being aware of a community that exists online that we are a part of as well as the geographical communities where we operate. This encompasses thinking about how to bridge what we do online to the events that we do.

Pitchfork has had so much success with its music festival that it now feels like sort of a given that a music journalism publisher would naturally know how to organize and stage an outdoor music event. What was the learning curve like for it? How did it come about in the first place? In many ways this relates to the community piece as well. For the Chicago Festival, we have been working with the same production company, At Pluto, since the festival started, and honestly we couldn’t do it without them. When it comes to organizing and staging the event, they handle every aspect and we have complete trust and faith in how they run the festival. They are Chicago-based as well and very simply put, there is an understanding of who we are and what we’re trying to do. It is a comfort that when I start working on the festival related projects each year, I’m continually working with the same people and when it comes to the week of the festival I’m seeing the same faces that I’ve seen for the last ten years. In addition to the working relationship with the production team, there is also an effort to make sure that Chicago talent is a part of the festival-line up and that we’re working with different Chicago charities each and every year. In regards to how the festival came about, it was another area that we saw as an opportunity to do something that wasn’t being done. We work to maintain all the aspects that we feel work and due to the festival’s size, the talent that we book, the vendors that take part, and the partners that we work with; the festival continues to be unique. It has been a conscious effort to maintain all of these aspects.

What skill set would you encourage someone to have who is interested in pursuing a finance position in a creative field? Would it look any different than that needed for any finance position? When this question was asked during the session it was hard to explain exactly what that skill or experience set is, but it is absolutely important that candidates understand the company’s mission and the company culture. It is also important that the finance, accounting, and business background is in place. It is also important to recognize that in a finance related role you will not be separate from the creative staff at a company. Those relationships will also be closer at smaller companies so the finance and the creative roles do need to operate as a team.

What’s the best concert you’ve seen? Robyn at our Paris festival in 2012.