How email powerhouse Morning Brew adapted to COVID-19

For many media companies, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unforeseen obstacles and lost revenue. For Morning Brew, it brought a boost in subscribers and new opportunities to drive engagement.

Morning Brew grew to a $13 million company by hosting a suite of email newsletters for the modern business leader. Its core offering, “Daily Brew,” delivers business insights to the inboxes of over 2 million people each day.

Like many other publishers and brands, Morning Brew had to decrease its acquisition spend and change its monetization strategies in response to the pandemic. In a recent Real Time Banter webinar with Jason Schulweis, head of brand partnerships at Morning Brew, 84% of 31 respondents said they are also rethinking their monetization strategies during the global crisis.

But instead of faltering under the weight of these changes, Morning Brew saw success.

“Because of the strength of our content, we didn’t see any negative effect from the decrease in spend,” Jason Schulweis, head of brand partnerships at Morning Brew, told us in a recent Real Time Banter webinar. “It forced us to really double down on what got us to where we are in the first place. The content is doing better than it ever has. The total shares are doing better than they ever have. It’s been very cool to watch Morning Brew continue to thrive and grow in a tough environment.”

Here’s how they did it.

Provide utility

Early on, Schulweis recognized the need to not just provide information and entertainment to readers, but also utility.

“There was this new consumer need because everyone’s lives had changed. So, what now?” he says. “We took a more holistic view at what the business professional is and does. How do you work from home? How do you spend your time? How can you continue to learn and be the best version of yourself?”

In mid-March, Morning Brew created a “Work from Home” guide, which quickly took off. So they followed up with a new, pop-up email newsletter: “The Essentials,” a guide to staying happy and healthy while quarantined. That newsletter is now delivered three times a week to over 100,000 subscribers.

Be flexible with advertising partners

From the start, Morning Brew was eager to meet clients in the middle and work with partners to keep business running.

“I think we very intentionally and fortunately overreacted in a good way in terms of reducing our rates,” Schulweis says. “We were honest with our partners and said, ‘We’re going to do absolutely everything that we can to help because we know that your supply chain was disrupted, and we want to be sympathetic to that.'”

Still, as a bootstrapped media startup, these were difficult conversations to have internally and externally.

“There were late nights,” Schulweis says, “but I think we’re much stronger now – not just Morning Brew, but our partners and relationships as well.”

Consult the data

Morning Brew constantly monitors its data, like open rates and engagement, to better understand how to serve its readers and accommodate audience behaviors.

During the pandemic, Morning Brew saw desktop viewership – normally 30% of its total – rise, but not as much as they expected, given the number of people working from home and self-isolating. They also saw certain categories of advertisers, like meal delivery services, increase spend to account for new consumer needs.

“There was so much uncertainty in certain markets that a lot of our partners and advertisers would say, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for us to provide value and we can help,'” says Schulweis. “But now we’re starting to see the Morning Brew client set look more like what it was pre-pandemic.”

Run referral programs

Even after decreasing spend on acquisition campaigns, Morning Brew increased its audience by encouraging current subscribers to bring new people into the fold.

“We started to give our subscribers more value and more incentive to help,” Schulweis says. “When we ran giveaways or referral program perks for just creating content that people wanted to share, we were able to drive a lot of new eyeballs and new subscribers into our ecosystem.”

For example, Morning Brew runs a private Facebook group of 15,000 people who’ve already referred three or more subscribers.

“Your most loyal readers and subscribers are the ones that are going to be the most valuable to you and help you drive the most other loyal and valuable subscribers,” Schulweis says. “It’s not just about finding new people no matter where they are, but rather homing in and understanding who that core audience is.”