Politico’s daily newsletter, London Playbook, has 30,000 subscribers a year after launch, according to the company. The quick growth in a crowded media space with political newsletters from national newspapers is partly thanks to Politico’s international perspective and a laser focus on politics and policy from a non-partisan view.
The newsletter’s rate of growth has been higher than its Brussels counterpart, which launched in 2015 and now has over 80,000 subscribers. (Full disclosure: it inherited 38,000 when it launched). The U.S. edition, launched in 2007, has nearly 200,000 subscribers.
Going niche and targeted has been London Playbook’s goal and differentiator. Covering politics and policy, the primary audience is the Westminster bubble. The newsletter aims to be a comprehensive look ahead of the day, with more conversational tidbits on who was seen at which party, a level of granularity that political newsletters from national newspapers are unlikely to go into.
Politico’s international dimension gives it a competitive advantage. Being able to draw on resources of 300 journalists in Washington, over 70 in Europe and 10 in London, means that the editorial team is increasingly collaborating on stories from both sides.
“We think about how we can be greater than the sum of our parts. Playbook is instrumental in realizing those ambitions,” said Matt Kaminski, global editor. “Politico can be the bridge between the Continent and the U.S. There are multiple pathways to how we can make conversations happen; we have to be creative with how. A very successful London newsletter has been good for the publication as a whole.”
According to Kaminski, the open rate for the London and Brussels’s Playbook newsletters are Politico EU’s highest performing newsletters, with higher open rates than the industry average, although he was unable to share figures. The media newsletter industry average open rate, according to MailChimp, is 21.92 percent.
Advertisers like oil and gas company ExxonMobil and BP have run native placement ads within the newsletter for a week at a time. Convincing agencies — typically accustomed to buying ad space for high circulation — of the value of a smaller well-defined audience takes time, but interest in London has been growing. For the last two months London Playbook has had an advertiser running each week, said Kaminski. By next year he expects ads to run each week.
London Playbook has extended into events, running four this year with sponsor partners, a breakfast with former culture secretary Matt Hancock, in partnership with trade group BSA, The Software Alliance. Of course, the free newsletter is a way in to drive people to Politico’s subscription products like Politico Pro. In April, the publisher told Digiday that half of its revenue in Europe comes from paid subscriptions.
“Playbook is as influential now as when it had 1,000 subscribers. It’s who is reading it that matters, even if it’s the few dozen players in British politics and government that’s engaging,” said Kaminski. “Hundreds of others will want to know what those are engaging with.”
As Digiday previously reported, Politico’s U.K. traffic was fledgling before Brexit. During the referendum, Brexit-related coverage led to traffic growth of 300 percent, 20 percent of which was from the U.K., prompting it to launch London Playbook.
“It was a very different situation, a much more crowded market, more of a challenge for us to establish this here,” said London Playbook author Jack Blanchard, who spent seven years as a lobby reporter in Westminster. “I wasn’t interested in going toe-to-toe with others. I spent months analyzing what it was people working in Westminster want in the morning.”
Launching a political newsletter in Brussels in 2015 posed a different set of challenges, said Kaminski, like whether the brand would travel outside of the U.S., particularly in a region known for its buttoned-up bureaucracy. The Guardian even ran a headline reading, “Can Politico make Brussels sexy.”
“Brussels wasn’t being covered as a political capital. Brussels was there for the taking,” said Kaminski. “London wasn’t, but London has shown to be very open to new way of doing journalism.”