Robinhood is cutting headcount by 23%, said CEO Vlad Tenev last week. Most of the cuts will be in marketing, operations and program management. It already laid off 9% of its workforce in April. Interestingly, I first heard about the layoffs on The Best One Yet – the podcast formerly known as Robinhood Snacks – which is hosted by Nick Martell and Jack Kramer. The pair sold their financial podcast and newsletter company to Robinhood in 2019, and it became a foundational part of the fintech company’s media arm. A few months ago, it was spun out as TBOY. It had 11.5 million downloads in the last three months of 2021, making it one of the biggest business podcasts around.
Robinhood remained the show’s sponsor after the spinout, but before that, the Snacks podcast’s editorial content never covered Robinhood itself – highly noticeable since it’s meant to be a news source about finance and fintech. As the hosts said at the beginning of the show, this was the first time ever that they were covering Robinhood. “We need to define the relationship,” said Martell. The podcast is still sponsored by Robinhood, but it’s now an independent company – and thus has the freedom to cover whoever it wants. (For this episode, it paused the Robinhood ads.)
Snacks the publication, which remains part of Robinhood, still doesn’t cover the company. It also doesn’t cover data published by Robinhood, surveys it conducts, or even research the company produces about financial trends. Because financial sectors have much more stringent regulations, so there’s considerations around swaying opinion at play. And it’s important that it doesn’t get perceived as “advertising,” but editorial – and therefore has different rules apply. The effect, however, is perhaps actually exactly the opposite, because true editorial would mean covering everything and everyone.
Toolkits insight: The concept of independence in brand publishing remains largely theoretical. Brand publishing is ultimately at the service of the company that pays for it. So even as brands build media arms, there are some sticky questions about what and who they’ll cover. In most cases, brand publishers will have “off limits” topics that they simply won’t get into. In other cases, it’s more ad hoc – and that can be dangerous. “Independence creep” can be a real issue. From our perspective, brands can hugely benefit from a church-state style separation between editorial teams and other parts of the business. This can build credibility, create more engaging content and help with efficiency. But this isn’t an option for everyone. As we saw in the case of TBOY, certain industries have more onerous regulatory requirements than others. But as brands start growing publishing operations, the independence conversation is worth having.