With Mike Allen gone, Politico’s Playbook e-mail newsletter makes a play for millennials

Two months on, the hand-over of Politico’s free daily newsletter, Playbook, appears to be going well.

Politico journalists Anna Palmer, 34, and Jake Sherman, 30, took over writing the daily email newsletter in July, after its star editor Mike Allen, 52, left. The newsletter is well known for dishing out political scoops and behind-the-scenes stories each day. After the election, Allen, who launched the newsletter almost 10 years ago and remains Politico’s chief White House correspondent, is leaving with Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei to start a new political publication to be launched later this year.

“It was daunting to take over from someone who founded a major platform,” said Sherman. “We’ve grown a lot larger than we thought we would in two months and are pleasantly surprised.”

According to Playbook figures, its subscriptions have increased 8 percent in the past two months. While it declined to give specific numbers, Playbook had 100,000 subscribers in January this year, according to its website. The newsletter’s gross open rate is also the highest it has ever been at 80 percent, which compares to the 22.5 percent average for political email newsletters, per email marketing company MailChimp. Politico wouldn’t provide unique open rates, however. (Gross open rates account for multiple opens and are typically much higher).

“If we tried to replace Mike Allen, we’d set ourselves up for failure,” Sherman said about whether the newsletter has any distinct differences. The content, with recent headlines like, “Clinton tries to flip Trump’s campaign plan with new ad,” and “PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: Greta Van Susteren,” are not dissimilar to Allen’s stories, said Sherman; however, the new team is reflective of a different generation, and they’re bringing new perspectives, tones, sources and professional contacts into the mix. “We’re using data and audience data and in-person visits to New York, LA and Washington, D.C., to help build an audience.”

Sherman puts the rise in numbers down to a few things. Launched in the Blackberry era, Playbook remained largely unchanged until now. One of the first moves the pair made was to bring color photos and graphics to what was a text-only newsletter. Sherman and Palmer also toured the country’s political hotspots to find out what changes readers wanted to see from the new team. The biggest piece of feedback: the need for the newsletter to be sent out at a consistent time. While Allen always sent Playbook out during the morning, it was never at a consistent time. Sherman and Palmer are now up at 4 a.m. to get Playbook into people’s inbox before 8 a.m. “Subscribers say we’ve become a lot better in that realm,” Sherman said, adding a majority of the newsletter is written each morning.

A bigger social media push for Playbook as a brand is also on the cards. Both Sherman’s and Palmer’s personal presence on Twitter (Sherman has 40,000 Twitter followers and Palmer has 15,200) dwarf Playbook’s brand reach, which sits at 1607 Twitter followers and 976 Facebook likes. Playbook Plus, a dedicated presence on Politico.com due to be launched next year (this month was its initial launch date), is aimed at boosting Playbook’s social presence on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, and offer additional news-letter material from weddings, birthdays and events happening in the political world.

Politico wouldn’t disclose Playbook’s revenue, but, under Allen, Playbook brought in roughly $3 million through advertising, live events and weekly sponsorships from $55,000 and above, with past sponsors ranging from Visa, Bank of America and BP, among others.

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