Home Publishers Morning Brew On Why It’s Sticking With Direct

Morning Brew On Why It’s Sticking With Direct

Sara Badler, Chief Commercial Officer at Morning Brew

Late last year, Morning Brew hired Sara Badler, a longtime programmatic advertising executive, as its chief commercial officer.

Badler previously led programmatic monetization for Dotdash Meredith and The New York Times.

But this move doesn’t mean that Morning Brew, which built its business on direct, is planning to change its approach to monetization.

Programmatic is not on the to-do list, Badler told AdExchanger.

The plan instead is to do more of what’s already working for the Brew, including partnering with brands on live events, customized cross-platform sponsorships of its newsletters and creator-led video and podcast offerings.

“We’re leaning more toward direct because we can customize it exactly to what we’re doing, rather than rinse and repeat,” Badler said, when asked whether the digital ad industry as a whole is shifting from programmatic to direct. “But I hope it’s going to be a world where it’s ‘and’ and not ‘or.’”

Badler spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Give us an overview of Morning Brew’s monetization strategy.

SARA BADLER: We don’t do any sort of programmatic advertising. Everything is custom. We build it ourselves. The strategy is cross-platform: We go to market with social, podcasts, newsletters and events.

It kind of scares me to say everything’s custom, because sometimes advertisers want turnkey solutions. But there’s another bucket of advertisers who want custom, because they don’t want to look like everyone else.

Some publishers are moving toward direct rather than programmatic. Is that happening across the industry?


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It’s really hard to choose between the two. Marketers are trying to do both. Being strategic around KPIs is a lot easier on the programmatic side. But with cookie deprecation, who knows how long that lasts.

Is there a possibility that Morning Brew would do more programmatic guaranteed or private marketplace deals?

We’re going to remain direct for the time being.

What is the ad business looking like this year compared to last?

Things are going in a great direction. We’re starting to see that in the marketplace. Lunch meetings are back, and people going to live events is encouraging.

There is confidence now compared with six months ago that the economy is going to stay healthy. We’re getting RFPs for between Q2 and Q4, which means people feel strength in talking about the year, rather than the week. That makes us believe in a strong second half.

Morning Brew focused on direct response advertisers in the past. Is that still the strategy?

The strategy has evolved to every type of advertiser. There are tech and telco brands we’re starting to work with. It’s a good portfolio of clients across our professional and B2B businesses, as well as the bigger companies [you might associate with] our competitors.

We’re still new, though. It’s more like we’re in our teenage years in terms of growth, but we’re out of that infancy stage. People know who we are and that ‘Morning Brew’ is not a coffee company.

How are you growing brand advertising?

We have different levels of sponsorships, and we create different packages around our properties. We have a lot of different newsletters, from CFO Brew to Marketing Brew and Retail Brew, and we can extrapolate data and audience insights from those.

We also do events with clients, like pop-up shops or in-store collaborations. Direct advertising is really about relationships and in-person events.

Do you do any ecommerce or affiliate marketing?

Not yet. We’ve dabbled in it. But we’re definitely exploring that.

How do you plan to build on the first-party data from Morning Brew’s newsletters?

Newsletters were the original piece of Morning Brew’s business. But when we talk to marketers, it’s one component of what we can do across social, video and the entire platform. We’re also creating new newsletters that are specific to certain types of markets.

How does building a direct business differ from building a programmatic one?

We’re working through getting our name out there with agencies, because we haven’t done that a lot.

Building that brand affinity and working with them to curate a partnership that’s not just one and done, but that’s annualized or [running for] 18 months, is really cool. It’s different than getting an IO or setting up a deal ID and being like, “You’re either performing or not performing.” It’s a creative play.

Any update on your podcast business?

It seems to be in high demand and growing. I remember thinking that [the podcast market was growing] three years ago, and then it was almost starting and stopping. Maybe people weren’t commuting as much or traveling as much, and now they are. But that’s a huge part of the business that we’ve just tapped into.

Are you monetizing podcasts mostly through host-read ads?

Yes. It’s part of the custom piece of what we do.

How much revenue do podcasts drive?

Podcasts aren’t bigger than our newsletter, but it’s definitely something we’re putting more time, effort and money into.

We’ve heard reports that the digital audio market isn’t growing as fast as expected, considering how much hype there is around podcasts. Are you getting that sense?

I’m seeing a lot of growth. Podcasts aren’t going to be the leader in your revenue right now. But maybe, in a year, that could change.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more articles featuring Sara Badler, click here.

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