Why Mailchimp is producing more marketing in-house

Mailchimp may be best known as the prototypical podcast advertiser, but recently the online marketing company has gotten into the business of producing its own podcasts, as well as documentary films and episodic shows. Aligning with Mailchimp’s foray into making its own content, the company has cut back on traditional brand advertising, including cutting ties with its agency Droga5 in the first quarter of this year.

In June, Mailchimp debuted Mailchimp Presents, a section on the company’s website featuring video and podcast programming that the nine-person, 18-month-old original content team Mailchimp Studios team is producing with companies such as Vice and “Queer Eye” producer Scout Productions. The company’s original content hub results from a two-year push by Mailchimp to invest in producing original content, easing its reliance on traditional brand advertising and tightening its relationships with the companies it works with to produce content.

Mailchimp’s decision to bring original content production in-house appears to be paying off. The company has been able to save money as a result of the move, but a Mailchimp spokesperson declined to say how much it has saved. Since premiering its first original series in January 2019 and prior to the launch of Mailchimp Presents, the company has generated more than a million views of its shows and downloads of its podcasts, according to the spokesperson. The people that have been checking out this original content “tend to be really, really similar to our most valuable customers,” said Mark DiCristina, Mailchimp’s head of brand and Mailchimp Studios. “They tend to pay us more. They tend to pay us more quickly. They tend to be more engaged.”

While Mailchimp is producing documentaries, scripted and unscripted shows and podcasts, it is not exactly pivoting to become an entertainment company, though it is acting like one by offering to pay production firms six figures per episode for shows, according to a person with knowledge of the matter; the Mailchimp spokesperson declined to comment. But for the most part, Mailchimp Presents is largely a marketing initiative designed for the small business owners and entrepreneurs that visit Mailchimp’s site regularly to manage their email marketing and social ad campaigns. That is why the company is sticking to short-form programming, with its show episodes typically running between five and eight minutes apiece, standalone documentaries hovering around 15 minutes in length and podcast episodes sticking between 15 and 25 minutes in length. “We don’t expect to take the place of Netflix,” said DiCristina.

Mailchimp Presents marks an example of a marketer opting to take in-house work that it had previously hired agencies to handle. In Mailchimp’s case, the aim was to produce content that people would want to check out as opposed to ads that people are forced to sit through. “It felt like, as long as we’re sponsoring shows, we’re paying rent to get in front of people. We’re interrupting the thing that they want to be engaged with. And we go away the minute we stop paying,” said DiCristina.

To be clear, Mailchimp has not stopped advertising altogether. In the first quarter of 2019, the company spent $1.9 million on advertising, but that figure was down from the $2.3 million the company had spent in the first quarter of 2018, according to data from Kantar Media. Mailchimp continues to run digital and out-of-home ads, with a little TV and print advertising thrown in, said DiCristina. It also still advertises within podcasts, though its investment in podcast advertising had tapered off by 2017, he said.

However, Mailchimp has tamped down its brand advertising investments to redirect that money to its original content productions. “A lot of the money that we were spending on brand advertising has been shifted to the creation of original content and the promotion of that content,” said DiCristina. He added that “most” of the company’s brand advertising dollars are now going to Mailchimp Studios’ work, which will expand beyond the Mailchimp Presents programming to include more traditional marketing fare, like educational and how-to content.

Considering that Mailchimp is primarily distributing its original content on its own site, the undertaking would appear to be mainly a customer retention effort. However, it is also a brand awareness and customer acquisition initiative, according to DiCristina. The marketing team within Mailchimp Studios will be running ads to promote the Mailchimp Presents programming. Additionally, in some cases, Mailchimp will be distributing the content outside of its site. People can listen to its podcasts through platforms like Apple’s Podcasts app and Spotify, and “Second Act” — a documentary series about people making career changes co-produced with Vice — is airing on Vice’s TV network Viceland this week and next week, said Sarita Alami, production lead at Mailchimp Presents.

Mailchimp had been moving toward taking content production in-house during the roughly two years in which it had worked with Droga5 until severing ties earlier this year. Over that time, the marketer learned from the agency what all goes into making content and began to hire employees to do more of that work internally. Then last fall Mailchimp and Droga5 began the process of handing off content production to the brand’s internal team, with the agency helping the marketer to develop its original content strategy and connecting its then-client with production companies. “Droga5 was instrumental in the initial development of this initiative,” DiCristina said.

Since cutting ties with Droga5, Mailchimp only works with agencies on a project basis, according to DiCristina. For example, Mailchimp hired Work & Co to design and build Mailchimp Presents. In addition to the production companies it is working with to make shows and podcasts, the company also works with Hollywood talent agency WME “in more of a consultant capacity” for its content development pipeline, said Alami.

To handle original content production on its own, Mailchimp had to recruit people with experience producing and marketing entertainment content. Six or seven of the employees on the nine-person Mailchimp Studios team were hired from the entertainment industry, said DiCristina. To convince those people to join the company, Mailchimp played up the relative freedom that they would have working for a brand versus working for a production firm that is responsible for making the content, but is not in charge of budget or distribution, according to Alami. “We’ve been able to liberate ourselves from all of that,” she said.

This article has been updated to reflect that Mailchimp has generated more than a million video views and podcast downloads since January 2019.


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