At the height of the coronavirus pandemic a few months ago, advertisers owed BuzzFeed around $100 million in payments from the fourth quarter, almost one-third of the company’s revenue for last year. CEO Jonah Peretti was worried that with the businesses grinding to a halt and many companies suspending advertising, BuzzFeed wouldn’t be able to collect.
At the same time, marketers were looking at force majeure clauses in their contracts with BuzzFeed to see whether they could extricate themselves from ad deals with the company, Peretti said. That was the backdrop for BuzzFeed’s decision in late March to cut salaries of employees by between 5% and 15%, and then in May to furlough 68 employees. BuzzFeed was one of the first companies to cut salaries in response to the downturn, although a flood of other businesses across different industries quickly followed suit.