Morning Brew Scaling Out Indie Creator Program
What is Morning Brew Creator Program?
So a lot is happening in the Creator program. Even as ex-Morning Brew alums are racing to build a Substack competitor, that was mentioned by people in this thread, now the real Morning Brew team are launching a Creator program.
If you care at all about the future of media then you have to follow the Newsletter by Axios here, called Axios Media Trends.
So what’s going on? It’s actually more competition for the likes of Substack. Morning Brew is a legendary story, and they understand Millennials.
One thing that’s struck me with Substack’s audience, is how old they are.
What is the Morning Brew Creator Program?
They have launched a creator program that allows independent personalities to work for the company full time while maintaining separate and distinct products and brands.
While brands are still figuring out how to empower Creators to help with their social selling, in the world of Newsletters, teams like Morning Brew also want to take into these new “Newsletter influencers”, perhaps you know a few?
The program will help Morning Brew expand into niche areas, like personal finance, entrepreneurship and productivity. These are coincidentally areas that Substack has done pretty well with, at least to the extent that Finance Substacks litter our playgrounds.
While there are a few Substacks around entrepneurship and productivity that’s perhaps more the categories that you would have used to find on Medium. Medium itself is experimenting recently with a pilot for tips.
Morning Brew’s CEO said:
"We believe our audience cares about a lot of these niche topics, and we think the best way to cover those topics is to have a variety of different people, different points of view, who speak differently, all in the same ethos of Morning Brew, but maybe in their own tone and their own style"
Niche topics? That sounds a lot like the micro-targeting that’s made Substack build some momentum. A lot of the quirky cases studies I’ve seen in recent times, are pretty unusual niche categories.
With the likes of YouTube, Snap, Pinterest and even LinkedIn having “Creator programs” of various sizes, it’s only a matter of time before avante-guard media companies like Spotify or Morning Brew, would indeed get into this.
So how does it work? According to Sara Fischer author of Axios Media Trends:
The company currently works with seven creators, all of which are on Morning Brew's payroll full time.
Just like Substack has Substack Pro (a way to lure top-tier writers into a one year pilot), which has been pretty controversial for some reason, Rief declined to provide details about how the creators are compensated differently from full-time reporters, but he alluded to the fact that they each have unique deals.
It seems both Morning Brew and Substack typically offer packages to major writers of different kinds. Sadly this is not the kind of thing you’d want to see how Creator programs should work. But it’s clear that Morning Brew is showing a commitment to the personal brand of the writer in doing this.
Is paying advances and having ‘Creators for hire’ the way to go though? It’s all very commercial.
I’m not exactly clear on the case studies but Sara does mention a few in her article. One of them is Katie Gatti — a 26-year-old podcaster and personal finance writer — have brought their existing brands to Morning Brew to grow them with the support of Morning Brew's infrastructure. She has bene working with Morning Brew in this sense for around 8 months according to her Linkedin profile.
Gatti said her newsletter, Money with Katie, has grown from fewer than 10,000 free subscribers to over 100,000 since joining Morning Brew in January.
This means being a chosen Creator by Morning Brew can greatly accelerate your audience. If you don’t know who Morning Brew are?
Morning Brew generated $50 million in 2021. Not bad for a company that was bootstrapped by two college kids in their dorms. - Source.
Morning Brew have some advanced tactics in how they scale their products. A lot of it is referral based. It’s pretty intense.
As of the March, 2022 article by CNBC: Morning Brew’s primary newsletter has surpassed 4 million subscribers after hitting 3 million just eight months ago. Eventually Substack alums could spawn ecosystems like Morning Brew has achieved. This is just a matter of scale. As I reported in May, the Dispatch is leaving Substack and could be such an example.
The growing saga around Newsletter and Podcast media is super interesting because these are trends that compound with the evolution of ecosystems like Spotify and TikTok’s clone of that product that is coming soon. Audio content and Newsletters aren’t dominated by any one company, but by main stream media companies that have figured out the formulas like Axios for instance. Substack’s own Simon Owens recently posted about this.
For Substack with its limited funding and smallish product and engineering team, it’s not just about the product, it’s about the macro trends in the Creator Economy at large that they have to consider.
How to they incentivize Creators to stay once they become bigger? How do they build a sticky product for both readers and writers? How do they accelerate their own “chosen ones”, if at all? If you started on Substack in the early days or have had success featured by Substack, or were part of Substack Pro, you already have had a lot of benefits.
But it’s not the same as being a member of a legit Creator program. Graduates of LinkedIn’s creator program I’ve noticed do have way higher baseline engagement on their posts, especially if they “stick to the script” of what LinkedIn wants them to do and be like.
When I was a LinkedIn Top Writer all those years ago, LinkedIn “gave” me recommended followers at a good rate for a certain time period. So these walled gardens always do support people who behave according to their preferences. These programs are not typically geared to help the Creators, but for the ecosystem to have some kind of brand ambassadors. The financial compensation is not often great and the process more like indoctrination, than strategy. But such is the world of the attention economy.
The key for Morning Brew, LinkedIn, Substack or whoever is to get them while they are young, so they can have a lifetime customer earnings that delivers ROI for the company. Of course not all of Substack Pro deals have worked out. They have let some Creators grow their following from scratch even with a huge following elsewhere, and accepted others that never stood a chance in their lonely category. That’s okay, maybe they don’t have someone dedicated to doing their due diligence.
How to Elevate Personal Brands without Warping them?
If most “Creator Programs” are gimmicks, I actually think what Morning Brew is doing here is fairly smart. They are elevating personal brands in their tried and true formula to their target audience.
Back to our Case Study
For creators like Gatti, the partnership provides support to be able to launch into new verticals that require cash investments upfront, like merchandise and events.
This selling of merchandise is interesting, since I just covered Shopify Collabs yesterday. Choosing the right personal brands, category leaders and how to leverage them is hard. Hard as the folk at every.to are finding out.
YouTube is the only media company that is ubiquitous to GenZ.
Sara F. thinks traditional news companies are “struggling to strike the right balance between elevating their own brands and the brands of their journalists". In truth, the only media company that matters to young people today is actually YouTube, according to a recent Pew study, even TikTok lags far behind in terms of ubiquity for GenZ.
In ByteDance’s defense however, TikTok is a full 11 years younger after all, as a platform. But YouTube was founded in 2005 and TikTok was launched in just 2016. What will that look like in 2030?
The personal brand really matters to the future of Newsletters. Substack likes to go after Creators with a lot of Twitter followers, but that doesn’t always scale very well to Newsletters. It’s also then too reliant to Twitter’s own future, which might not be good.
But they keep wanting to replicate their success with Political writers. And who can blame stoking the cash cows? It’s just not always the long-game. So what I have noticed personally is that the Substack Network is actually very immature in terms of a diversified audience. Since it’s so skewed from the former Substack Pro deals and this clamoring after Twitter stars. That perhaps part of the frustrating part of how startups create future growth barriers for themselves.
Morning Brew is a Rising Star in Media
Morning Brew has over 300 employees now. Morning Brew is on pace to bring in over $70 million in revenue this year, up from $46 million in 2021, per AdWeek. Morning Brew was acquired by Insider in 2020.
It currently has around 4.5 million subscribers across 11 free newsletters. In May, Axios indeed did reported that the company now has over 1 million email sign-ups across its five business verticals.
Morning Brew says you can become “smarter in just five minutes” by subscribing to their Newsletters.
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