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Morning Brew... for setting us up for the day: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020

Morning Brew is driving a new wave of newsletter media

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

A year ago, few would have believed it if we said email was going to be the hot new niche in media. Of course, we made no such prediction. Because that would have seemed silly.

But with the pandemic driving media titles to reassess their utility to readers in lockdown, email media staple Morning Brew has been making a name for itself.

It enjoyed a buy-out from Insider Group, valued at $75m, and rode (or caused) a wave of people to realize that the best place to catch business professionals is in their inboxes rather than across Google or on social media.

So how did the company build such a buzz with a humble newsletter? You’ll recognize it from its snappy copy, incise insights and sprinklings of coffee emojis that ensure it stands out in the inbox. It’s a good product that checks to ensure you are engaged and makes you feel guilty when you’re not.

Co-founders Alex Lieberman and Austin Rief started the Brew from a dorm room at the University of Michigan in 2015. It was initially designated to talk about local events. But it hit on a winning formula.

Open rates were driven with inquisitive riddles, quotes and, later, promos. The emails were bullet-pointed, providing a shallow but broad view of what modern business leaders (MBL) need to know. Lieberman told The Drum that the goal was simply to write newsletters that the pair themselves would read.

They designed what a media org’s email should look like from the ground up. They didn’t have to worry about a website or any legacy media. Their stable now encompasses The Emerging Tech Brew, The Retail Brew, The Marketing Brew and The Turnout newsletters. For its efforts, it has $20m annual revenue – mostly from advertising on its daily email – to show for it.

So the reason the honor goes to this 65-person startup is that it influenced an entire industry. With publishers already rallying around first-person data frameworks and some prominent writers peeling off to go independent on Substack, it helped many realize that they had everything they need to build an engaged audience and reading habit.

Morning Brew is driving a new wave of newsletter media that threatens to be the next big so-called ‘pivot’ in the sphere. As far as habit building goes, email is probably the way forward. But many will need to realize that it has to be the destination, not a portal of links, if it is going to be worth opening.

The title deserves respect for honing in on that basic truth, at the right time and the right place and in enviable style.

It is on stable footing for the year ahead too. The Brew will remain fully intact and the business will operate completely independently within Insider. But it is also looking to expand into podcasts and shows in the coming year.

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

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