Newsletter publishers cautiously plan to expand editorial and sales teams

Newsletter publishers have shown resilience during the advertising slowdown, maintaining ad revenue and email subscriber growth. As a result, publishers with newsletter-focused businesses are looking to grow their editorial and sales teams this year — but cautiously, to keep spending down during a time of economic uncertainty and to continue their focus on profitability.

Media companies have undergone waves of cost cutting measures, from layoffs to hiring freezes, since the economic downturn last summer. But executives at 1440, The Ankler, Front Office Sports, Industry Dive and Puck said they have not undergone layoffs since then, and have plans to hire this year.

“If we were a much more mature business, maybe it’d be a little bit different. But for us, it’s been more about, how are we continuing to grow during the economic uncertainty? And we’ve been able to do that,” said Front Office Sports founder and CEO Adam White.

Hiring plans

Front Office Sports is hiring for editorial roles and salespeople in different markets, White said. The Ankler is looking to hire two to three more people by the end of the year, including a head of sales and more reporters and writers, said Janice Min, CEO and editor-in-chief. 1440 co-founder and CEO Tim Huelskamp said the economic downturn has not impacted the company’s plans to hire a few marketing, growth and sales roles this year. The company hired a head of product a few months ago.

“We don’t have venture capitalists — that if we don’t hit a certain metric the money doesn’t come in and we have to change. So we have the luxury of option value, frankly — doing whatever we want,” Huelskamp said. “We have a couple of hires on the horizon this year. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary that we weren’t planning on earlier.”

This year, Puck plans to bring on a few new journalists as well as people on the business side, such as tech, ad sales or growth marketing roles, said Liz Gough, Puck co-founder and COO. Puck will have 26 full-time employees when Lauren Sherman starts at the company this week to author a new fashion-focused newsletter called “Line Sheet.”

Industry Dive plans to hire 30 people in its newsroom this year, said Sean Griffey, co-founder and CEO of the B2B digital media company. Industry Dive is planning on launching 12 publications this year. A fashion industry-focused newsletter launched last week, and other newsletters on the hotel and packaging industries are rolling out in the next two weeks. 

“That doesn’t mean we’re foolhardy about it. We certainly are being cautious with our spend right now. We’re certainly making sure we’re placing good bets, and we’re trying hard not to get too far ahead of ourselves in what we’re doing,” Griffey added.

An eye on costs

Despite these plans to grow their teams, newsletter publishing executives that spoke with Digiday said they are being careful not to grow too quickly, conscious of adding additional operating costs to their businesses at a time of economic instability.

“We’ve been really conservative” with hiring as a new media company that launched 18 months ago, Gough said. “The team is still quite small… We only have one full time salesperson at Puck right now in the DC market and runs our corporate affairs and advocacy business,” she added.

1440’s Huelskamp said the company isn’t diversifying beyond newsletters for now, so as not to invest in additional businesses and to prioritize core newsletter products.

Newsletter publisher The Gist is holding back on hiring and is focused on not “spending too much,” said Jacie deHoop, co-founder at The Gist.

“We’ve tried to be really cautious, and we’re being really careful with how we’re projecting this year to go,” deHoop said. “We’re not spending excessively by any means and we’re ensuring that we’re being extremely efficient. [We are] also not setting super audacious targets.”

The Ankler’s Min noted the layoffs happening at large streaming and studio companies has her wondering: How many of the people getting let go are subscribers to The Ankler, or are using corporate cards to pay for the newsletter’s subscription? She is also concerned about streamers and studios — their largest advertisers — cutting back on marketing budgets this year and if that will trickle down to impact their advertising revenue.

“It’s hard to not get rattled by certain things,” Min said. “We’ve learned there are no sure things.”

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