Politico has a serious reputation in the news market. Its founders used to work in The Washington Post but today, Politico stands neck and neck with the legacy news brand. It’s quite a feat considering the fact that The Washington Post started in 1877 whereas Politico started in 2007. That’s a gap of more than a century between the two.
Politico has also made some unconventional moves— giving out its printed newspapers and magazines for free, selling subscription services for a minimum of $1000, using Apple wallet to distribute news, etc., and succeeded with them. Its approach to building a publishing business was different from most of its competitors.
How it All Started?
Politico was the brainchild of Jim VandeHei, who started his career in the small town of Brillion when he was just 19. The first newspaper he worked with had a single editor so he moved to Washington where he got the opportunity to work with prominent newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
During his job, VandeHei had an ambition of putting together a few of the best people who are known for their political journalism to form a news media outlet. This outlet will focus solely on the country’s politics. VandeHei had the reputation and connections to get the job done but ultimately, the biggest requirement was funding.
To VandeHei’s luck, Robert Allbritton, the owner of Allbritton Communications wanted to transform his legacy newspaper the Capitol Leader into the biggest player in the game. Allbritton was a billionaire who acquired his fortune from his father — a successful banker and a businessman with the ownership of TV stations. As both the men needed each other to fulfill their dreams, a deal was inked, VandeHei joined Allbritton and Politico was born (Src).
Where are they today?
Politics influences every citizen of a country and you can find people discussing it almost anywhere in your daily lives. It’s no surprise that many people are interested in Politico’s content even when they are not the publisher’s target audience. Due to this reason, Politico garners close to 52 million monthly visitors with an average of 2.8 pages per visit (Src). Its European site has 4 million visits with 1.72 pages per visit (Src).
Many users prefer apps over going to the site via the browser. Politico shines in that area as well. Its iOS app has 37.5K ratings averaging 4.7 stars. But having a loyal audience doesn’t free you from maintaining your distribution channels. Politico takes social media platforms seriously, and it has built its strong presence on all the major ones. Its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages have 2M, 4.4M, and 1.7M followers respectively.
Politico’s hard work has helped it grow at an incredible speed. Currently, it has close to 800 employees helping it make more than $160M a year. (Src)
The Launch (Till 2010)
On 23 January 2007, Politico went live at 05:07 a.m. It garnered 269,773 visitors and 800,677 page views on the same day (Src). Apart from the website, the publisher also started with a print run of 25,000 (Src). It became possible with weeks of hard work by its co-founders and approximately 60 employees.
Politico’s initial focus was on bringing political scoops faster than any of its competitors. Assembling a workforce wasn’t a challenge as it branched out from Capitol Hill, a newspaper already owned by its investor Robert Allbritton. Within 20 months of its operations, Politico grew to 50 reporters from 39, and the overall staff increased to more than 105 (Src). At the same time, the site reached 3.5 million unique visitors and 25.1 million page views (Src).
Just like most of the publishers, Politico’s initial revenue came from ads. When Politico was in its second year of operations, its co-founder Jim Vandehei said that almost all of the money comes from ads. Subscriptions were contributing a nominal amount, but it was irrelevant when compared to ad revenue. Politico’s ads space was best suited for issue advocacy (we’ll discuss it in detail in this article), so it served a specific niche of advertisers.
But, only the right audience can attract the right advertisers, and a tiny but crucial group of its audience read printed newspapers. It consisted of policy decision-makers in the government. Because of this reason, Politico also started with a print run to show its ads to the group.