Cella Irvine, Digital Media Pioneer Who Led About.com, Dies at 59


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Cella Irvine in 2014. She led About.com and other new media companies in New York starting in the early 1990s.

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Mangue Banzima/Quistyle

Cella Irvine, a Silicon Alley pioneer who led About.com and other new media companies in New York starting in the early 1990s, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 59.

The cause was thyroid cancer, her husband, Hart Hooton, said.

Ms. Irvine broke ground in a male-dominated field in her corporate roles and as a founding board member and chairwoman of the nonprofit New York New Media Association. The group, which had 8,000 members at its peak, was acquired by the Software and Information Industry Association in 2003.

Ms. Irvine began her quarter-century career in the digital industry in the mid-1980s at Activision, a video game and educational software company. From 1989 to 1993, she ran customer relations and strategic planning for the Prodigy Services Company before joining the Hearst Corporation in 1994 as vice president and general manager of new media.

At Hearst, she guided its first digital ventures, including an interactive newspaper and the marketing of CD-ROMs.

Within two years she was the general manager of Sidewalk, an early online guide to local businesses started by Microsoft. Sidewalk, described as a digital version of urban newsweeklies, emerged as one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the internet. Ms. Irvine stepped down when the guide was sold to Citysearch in 1999.

After heading strategic planning and operations at a unit of Marsh, a risk consulting firm, she became chief administrative officer of Digitas, the digital advertising agency. There she helped integrate Modern Media and the Medical Broadcasting Company to become Digitas Health, a health care marketing firm.

She went on to oversee a series of acquisitions that led to Digitas Health’s sale to Publicis Groupe, a multinational advertising and public relations company based in France.

Ms. Irvine became chief executive and president of the About Group of The New York Times Company in 2008. (The Times had purchased About Inc. and its website About.com in 2005 for $410 million.)

When Ms. Irvine took over the group, About.com, as well as its other websites — ConsumerSearch.com, UCompareHealthCare.com and CalorieCount.com — were struggling at the beginning of the global economic recession and adjusting to Google’s changing algorithms.

She left in 2011. The About Group was sold the next year to Barry Diller’s IAC for about $300 million in cash.

In 2011, when Ms. Irvine became chief executive of Vibrant Media, a digital advertising company, David Kenny, the former chief executive of Digitas, told paidContent.org that she had been instrumental in planning the agency’s acquisition strategy and in integrating newly acquired companies.

She remained with Vibrant until 2013 and had been consulting since then.

Cella Maria Irvine was born on Sept. 23, 1957, in Manhattan to the former Josephine Cella, the director of educational services for the Ballet Hispanico in Manhattan, and Bonnell Irvine, an architect and designer.

She graduated from Friends Seminary in Manhattan and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Cornell University and a master’s in general management from Harvard.

In addition to her husband, a digital marketing consultant, she is survived by their two children, Giovanna and Hudson, and her mother.

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