Brian Morrissey on newsletters, podcasts, and the many ways to build a sustainable media business

The latest speaker to join this year’s FIPP World Congress lineup is Brian Morrissey, a pioneering figure on the UK media scene. In 2011, after several years as a reporter, he became the founding Editor-in-Chief of Digiday and helped the brand become one of the most important voices on ad, marketing and content on the web.

More recently he has struck out on his own and launched a podcast and a Substack-hosted email newsletter called The Rebooting. Both have become must-consumes for anyone in publishing. 

In an analytical but highly engaging way The Rebooting disects the latest trends in media. Morrissey has strong views on everything from the role of NFTs through to the way in which the media needs to find a way to marry both personal and institutional brands. 

In this exclusive FIPP interview, he explains the rationale behind The Rebooting while outlining what he believes will be the key opportunities for the media in the medium to long term.

Part of our: Meet the Speaker Series

Brian Morrissey, The Rebooting

What has been the story of your career to date? How did you end up at Digiday?

I spent the first 12 years of my career as a reporter. I lived the ups and downs of the profession. For nearly all of my career, I’ve covered digital marketing and media. I went to Digiday in 2011 when it was an events company with the idea that we could build a strong publishing brand with events as a core of the business model. 

And what is the story of The Rebooting? What was the inspiration for it, and why did you pick that particular time to start the project?

The Rebooting came about because I wanted to build a brand that can be an essential resource for all those building sustainable media businesses, along with the ecosystem around that, including agencies, advertisers, tech companies. I think we’re in a time where there is a shift from institutional brands to personal brands. You see that pretty clearly with Substack. This is a time of great innovation in publishing, in my view.

Can you give us some insight into the editorial process behind both the newsletter and the podcast. How do you end up choosing the topics you do?

Right now, The Rebooting is just me. I write about the topics that I find most interesting, using my experience in the doing – I was president of Digiday, so my role was beyond editorial – to give a different lens to issues than someone who is a reporter covering a beat. 

It seems that each newsletter seems to spark off some debate among media-focused professionals on social channels. Do you enjoy being part of that discussion, or are you happy to let others take the ideas and the concepts further?

Yes and no. Despite talking about personal brands and whatnot, I’m not crazy about self-promotion. I guess many self-promoters claim that. What’s important to me is that what I write sparks ideas in people. I like newsletters because often your readers reply to you. I spend a lot of time responding to emails. Email newsletters are unique that way.

A fair chunk of The Rebooting seems technology-focused. Do you get a sense that media and editorial professionals now have FOMO when it comes to media tech innovation?  Are they spending too much time worrying about the future when they need to focus on the present? After all it could be said that the two platforms The Rebooting uses – podcast and emails – are 20 years old.

I always compare media and marketing to a children’s soccer game where the ball goes to one part of the field and a clump of kids follows. I try to take an approach to innovation that’s rooted in pragmatic optimism. My belief is, for the most part, sustainable media businesses come down to execution, not finding some silver bullet. 

That said, where do you think the key opportunities will be for the media in the medium to long term? 

I think the opportunity is to take the best of institutional brands and combine it with personal brands. I think you’ll see an entirely new crop of publishers spring up that lean more toward the individual side by making them power the brand instead of vice versa. All the web3 stuff is fascinating and, I think inevitable, but it’s going to be mostly trial and error for some time. As one publishing executive said to me, “It’s at the Prodigy/CompuServe part of a 20-year cycle.”

One of the key topics that The Rebooting seems to return to constantly is the restructuring of online advertising. You recently said that the adtech industry were like cockroaches and would always find a way to survive? So what do you think the adtech landscape will look like in say 2025?

Adtech companies always find a way. The idea that because of regulations and changes in how cookies are used that data is not going to be critical to the ad business seems ludicrous to me. But I think we’re at the start of reforming the processes of ad tech that will, at least I hope, result in more leverage going to the sell side, particularly those who have the closest ties to their audiences. 

What’s your take on why the newsletter has become such a key part of the media landscape again? And why publish on Substack? Also where do you think Substack might go in the future?

I think the newsletter is a great format. It’s finishable. It’s personal. Podcasts have similar dynamics. My bet is underlying this is people wanting the web to be more human. Too much of digital publishing has been people writing for algorithms, not for people.

“There are many, many ways to build a sustainable media business”

And what would your advice be to mainstream publishing companies in how to develop an effective newsletter?

Find someone with a point of view. Treat it as a standalone product, not an RSS feed of headlines to stories on your website.

And what about entrepreneurs? Is there still space to launch and develop a successful newsletter?

There are many, many ways to build a sustainable media business so long as the cost basis is held in check. I think there’s always room for products with a clear point of view that is essential for a specific community. My advice is to always go narrow and deep. 

To see the latest speaker line-up for this June’s FIPP World Media Congress, along with details of the agenda nd more, click here.


Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x