Can a fintech company build a truly independent, profitable media operation within its walls? Robinhood is trying.
The company launched its own standalone media entity called Sherwood Media — which includes its existing “Snacks” newsletter – and has hired Vox Media veteran, James Denis, to build out its monetization strategy. We caught up with Denis to understand how he’s pitching the new brand to the market, what kinds of advertisers the company is looking to work with, and what differentiates Sherwood in the advertising marketplace.
Edited highlights from our conversation are below.
Relatively few brands are monetizing content directly. What is the differentiating factor for Robinhood?
“60% of the Snacks daily readership is 44 and under, so when you think about some of the competitive set that exists there it’s a big differentiator. Plus, the relationship with the audience has been built up over the years, with trust and consistency, with education as a core component of the value exchange. So, when you think about starting a new media company, you’re not starting flat-footed. We’re looking to introduce a product suite that will drive new touchpoints and expand the value proposition with our growing audience providing enhanced access for financial education to the next generation of investors, and it’s a unique opportunity to build a modern media company on the back of that scaled newsletter audience.”
What are you planning to pitch to advertisers?
“We’ll be launching a website later this year, followed by more product launches in 2024, including a podcast, events and a print magazine. In the near term, we’re excited about the web launch. But if we try and do what Snacks is meant to do but on the Web, it’s going to be a weird experience. You have to give respect to consumption habits. Snacks is a 3-minute read, and we want to bring the curiosity to Web and offer deeper context. The way we’re going to design the website will be with all those data points in mind. Podcasts are really interesting right now. Print is interesting, a new magazine for brand building but also for [monetization opportunities]. When you think about it, you have a captive audience with print. Also audio, there is a captive personal experience. The inbox is the new homepage. There’s intent to that engagement.”
Is pitching advertisers as part of a financial services company different to doing so as a more “traditional” media company like Vox Media?
“The similarities are that Vox has done a great job respecting the role an individual brand plays for an audience. There are similarities in what we’re building as well. For the industry, the audience demo is attractive. It skews younger, it’s a concentrated group that is incredibly qualified with high household income and credit scores. They’re also very curious.
We are our own subsidiary and LLC, but we share DNA in that Robinhood’s mission is to democratize finance for all. Our goal is that access to finance and business news is provided to the masses. When you launch a media company as a subsidiary of a publicly traded fintech company, it comes with a ton of compliance. Our goal is to be a self-sustaining business entirely. We are well on our way. We launched a big launch partnership with NASDAQ we’re excited about. We’re very much separated and on our own. Our goal is to be self-sufficient.”
What types of advertisers are you targeting?
“So much of this has to be rooted in respect for the audience. There’s this feel of race to the bottom for publishers where they’re going out and accepting open programmatic. What we want is to be thoughtful and respectful. We have a real opportunity to work with brands and lean into that differentiated value proposition. In terms of categories, there are endemics like fin-tech and financial services. But in terms of overall audience composition and demos, we’re interested in looking at travel. And when you look at life events, there’s interest in mortgages, real estate and insurance. Luxury is an interesting one because our audience is an aspirational one. Also, maybe liquor, food and beverage. “
Who are you competing with for ad dollars?
“When you think of finance and business news, there’s the NYT, WSJ, Barron’s, Bloomberg, Forbes, there’s a number of them out there. Morning Brew is doing a great job of increasing value. But when you think about Market Snacks, now Sherwood, it’s existed for a long time. Launched in 2012, and acquired by Robinhood in 2019. It’s been around a lot longer than the importance of brevity was talked about. The fact that Snacks has been doing this for so long gives it a unique understanding of the audience. That’s a differentiator.
While the industry might be challenged overall, there is still an appetite for premium publishers. We want to make sure the advertising we bring matches the level of content. We will be very thoughtful. Opening the floodgates and losing control over what’s going on the page isn’t something we’re interested in.”