When Workweek began almost a year ago, co-founder Becca Sherman, a BIMS 2023 keynote speaker, said that “influential business content is no longer limited to Wall Street Journal articles or Gartner white papers, but also comes in the form of tweets, product reviews, YouTube clips, newsletters, and more… Workweek is designed to grant more opportunities…” Since then, they’ve been practicing what she preached.
Almost 4 years ago exactly, Hamish McKenzie, one of the three co-founders of Substack, told me this: “We strongly believe that in 5 years there will be a very obvious critical mass of people who will pay for content from writers who they trust. And it will be a mainstream, accepted part of the ecosystem. In the meantime, we have this induction period where people are figuring it out. This can work. People are learning how good an experience it is to be subscribed to an independent writer you love. We’re really focused on building that relationship—to get people interested in that model. We’ll keep looking for allies.”
Fast forward to today, and newsletters have become a huge part of the media ecosystem, thanks in part to Substack. And now other startups are taking that model and running some new steps with it. One of those is Workweek, a media company built around a roster of 21 newsletter writers. Workweek wants to grow name recognition for its talent, not itself.
“My goal over time is not for Workweek, the brand, to be front and center for the audiences of these creators,” Sherman, Workweek founder and CEO, said in an article on Insider last week. Instead, she hopes the company can grow individual media brands that succeed on their own, like Architectural Digest does under Condé Nast.
Sherman will be a keynote speaker at our BIMS event in Orlando, Feb. 23-24, speaking at a session titled, Here’s a Content-Centric Digital Native Who Wants to Remake B2B. Reading the Insider article and a couple other sources, some ideas stood out that I’m sure she will expound upon in February:
Establish a range of niches. Like Substack, which has 27 niches listed on their site, Workweek’s roster of writers, podcasters and social-media creators cover everything from fintech and healthcare to work talk, cannabis and climate tech.
Offer services to support the content creators. Workweek creates and run ads to help the newsletters grow subscribers. “In-house ghostwriters and meme-makers” take to social media to build engagement. An ad sales team works to bring in revenue for their newsletters and podcasts. The Insider article began with a story about a website the Workweek team created called Sunday Side Chicks to help one of their newsletters that was promoting a Sunday alternative food truck to Chick-fil-A.
Push the writers, “low-key” the company. This may be the new newsletter strategy. Workweek creators may not even mention their relationship to the company even though they’re considered full-time employees. Similarly, according to Insider, Semafor, the new news brand started by former Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith and NYT vet Ben Smith, designs its reporters’ bylines to look like headlines to bring them more attention. Here’s an example.
Being B2B may be their secret sauce. Workweek says it has 350,000 subscribers across its newsletters. A year ago, Substack said they had more than half a million. (When I interviewed McKenzie, they had about 11,000.) “No one’s really attacked the creator economy from a business-to-business standpoint,” said Rich Greenfield, general partner of LightShed Ventures, which has led their $7.5 million funding. “How do you best monetize thought leadership if you’re a creator focused on the business marketplace for whatever industry you’re in? And how do you scale that business? It’s really hard to do well on your own.”
Diversify revenue. Workweek is also getting into events, merchandise, and pay-to-download publications. According to Insider, they project that less than half of their October revenue will come from advertising. They also announced at the beginning of the year they’re launching a $10 million venture fund to invest in businesses brought in by the newsletter writers. Smartly, they’re also operating a job search and recruiting business that goes to those writers’ email lists.
Give back to the talent. Writers also get some cut of earnings generated from their work—from sponsorship revenue, events or merchandise sales. (The chicken website tee-shirts sold well apparently.) “Every dollar that we drive from a creator’s brand is shared back with a creator,” Sherman said. “Too often, executives and operators take home a lot off of the back of the people who are creating a ton of value. We try to really flip that model here.”
By February at BIMS, Sherman will be able to tell us much, much more about their progress, strategies and outcomes.