The GIST is a newsletter run by 3 college roommates who set out to create a place for underserved sports fans.
They send out sports content 4x per week and have multiple cities and locations they serve at this point.
Ellen, Rosalyn, and Jacie have built their female-friendly sports newsletter up to almost 700k subscribers. And they’ve done it with “typical” growth strategies, but they use them in really smart ways.
How the GIST Makes Money
The GIST is more a traditional media outlet instead of a “personal brand” type newsletter. And so many people told them they didn’t think their “niche” was going to be big enough to make money.
When in fact their “niche” is about half of the entire population….women. They’ve been able to grow their business to at least $2 million in sponsorship revenue alone.
While I don’t have specific numbers, I backed into the numbers and came up with that as my conservative guess.
But they make money in a few different ways.
Sponsorships & Native Advertising
From what I can tell, sponsorships are one of the main income sources for The GIST.
They are sponsored by some big names, including AAA, Aflac, and Buick.
I couldn’t find the media kit or pricing anywhere, but they brought in over $1 million in sponsorships in 2021, with around 300k subscribers.
I think it’s safe to say they’ve at least doubled that revenue number from sponsors at this point.
The Gist has a job board that does exactly that.
There are 42 jobs listed on there at the moment, so depending on the season of hiring, they are probably bringing in around $5-7k per month from this job board.
The GIST also has brand partnerships with massive brands like FanDuel.
I honestly have no idea what the agreements on these look like, but it’s clearly worth a mention. They also get subscriber growth from being mentioned alongside such big names.
The Growth Timeline of The GIST
The ladies who created The GIST started growing the newsletter in November of 2017. But they didn’t go full-time on it until mid-2018, which is when things really started picking up.
Since then they’ve exploded to over 675k subscribers, 155k TikTok followers and 150k Instagram followers.
I think we’ve just started to really see things start to snowball for The GIST, so it’ll be fun to watch this grow even faster in the coming years.
The Growth Levers of The GIST
1. Giveaways and co-registrations. One of the most prominent ways they are growing is through regular giveaways with other top brands in adjacent industries. But they use a specific method of making sure they aren’t sacrificing the quality of their email list.
2. Paid advertising. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok – they are running really clever ads to get more quality subscribers on board.
3. Cross promotions. See how The GIST is working with partners that are super targeted to their brand, not just any newsletter with any audience.
4. Running ads in other newsletters. To round out their strategy, they advertise in other newsletters with relevant audiences.
Their First 1,000 Subscribers
Before we jump into the growth levers they used, the way they got their first 1,000 subscribers is really unique.
While most people just build a landing page and start posting on Twitter, the ladies at The GIST did this very differently.
When they were launching the newsletter in late 2017, the 3 co-founders threw a party.
They reached out to the local Shopify office in Toronto and Shopify let them use the space to host the party.
Then they reached out to some local brands and got the food and drinks provided. They had other local businesses donate some goodies for “swag bags” to give to each guest as well.
They invited 250 or so people to the launch party, and the ticket to get in was their email address. At the party, they asked everyone to share The GIST with 3-5 friends who might enjoy it.
That party led to them getting around 1,000 email subscribers in one night.
Talk about a unique way to kickstart a newsletter, huh?
Okay, onto the growth levers they used to continue building their newsletter.
1. Giveaways & Co-Registrations
The GIST runs a LOT of giveaways and co-registrations with other brands.
From what I can see, they run one of these every single week.
That’s a lot of giveaways.
So let’s talk about how this works.
- 5-7 brands get together and collaborate on the prize. They are using a broker to manage these at this point, but it’s not necessary.
- All of the brands send an email to their list promoting the giveaway
- All of the brands get the list of subscribers that come from the other brands
- Everyone gets a bunch of new email subscribers from this promotion
You’ve probably entered, or have at least seen something like this come through your inbox.
These can drive a lot of subscribers if the prizes and incentives are good enough and well-aligned with what their audience finds interesting.
Of course, these aren’t the highest-quality subscribers, but I’ll address that a little later.
Some of the brands they are running these with include:
- The Home Edit – professional organizers who have their own Netflix show
- Reese’s Book Club – yes, as in Reese Witherspoon
- Bala Fitness – minimalistic-looking fitness gear
- The Future Party – another large newsletter
- Female Startup Club – a newsletter geared towards female founders
- Roca News – a large daily news newsletter that covers “topics people actually care about”
- The Donut – another daily news list that’s more focused on “good news”
- Glowreel – a newsletter geared towards BIPOC women
- Altra Running – footwear brand for running and active lifestyles
- Nomadik – a subscription box for outdoor lifestyles
- Sunski – a Cali-type sunglasses brand
- Toad & Co – sustainable, eco-friendly clothing brand
- Mpowerd – solar-powered portable lights
Why am I listing these out? Because I think it helps you to see the kinds of brands they are working with.
These aren’t just random sports-focused brands – that would be a waste of time.
While they might be getting in front of the sports side of things, the demographics would be all wrong.
Most of those audiences would be mostly male and probably don’t realize why there is a need for a newsletter like The GIST.
Instead, they are working with brands that are adjacent to them but cater to a similar audience. These are brands that target millennial age-ranged, who live an active lifestyle and are more geared towards women’s empowerment.
These are the people who are much more likely to enjoy what The GIST has to offer.
Keeping the Quality of Subscribers High
Ellen, one the of co-founders, says these types of giveaways result in tens of thousands of subscribers. But, she also calls them “high volume but low quality”, because the quality of those subscribers isn’t great.
“But Chenell, I thought you just said they were targeting people who are more likely to be interested in their content.”
And yes, while that is true, it doesn’t mean that every subscriber on that other list is going to be interested in their newsletter.
They are constantly “churning” people out who don’t engage with their emails.
If a subscriber doesn’t open or engage with any of the first 9 emails they get sent after signing up via one of these offers, they remove them from their main list.
But, they don’t completely unsubscribe them, yet. Instead, they get added to a separate list.
Around big sports times, like the Olympics or World Cup, they will send emails to these people and see if they engage at that point.
If not, they fully remove them from the list. If they do start engaging, they might add them back to their main list, or slowly start sending them more emails.
2. Paid Social Ads
The team at The GIST also runs a lot of paid social ads on Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok.
With social ads, you can target people based on interests and demographics as well, which probably works quite well since you can target women who have specific interests.
These ads can work well if you have a specific type of person you’re creating content for.
Here are some of the recent Facebook and Instagram ads they’ve been running:
These ads are really well done.
They take into account some recent events (namely the Tiger Woods event) and call out some of the specific challenges their audience has.
- Timely content
- Bluntness in calling out the patriarchy
- But also letting people know it’s a quick read, but super informative
They are also running TikTok ads to drive new subscribers as well.
This is a really popular strategy with some of the larger daily and news-focused newsletters today.
Paid ads can bring in a much higher quality subscriber, but the cost per acquisition is usually a lot higher as well.
3. Cross Promotions
The GIST also runs regular cross-promotions with other newsletters.
One of the most consistent ones I’ve found was with a newsletter called The Assist, which is centered around young-ish professionals.
Here’s a recent example of The GIST promoting The Assist and vice versa:
Some other brands they run cross promotions with include:
- The Daily Upside
- The Broadsheet by Fortune
- Betches Media “Sup” Newsletter
Again, a lot of these brands are either women-focused or in adjacent areas that might have a lot of overlap with their brand.
I’ve run cross promotions in the past, but sometimes it can be a hit-or-a-miss type of strategy. The GIST seems to have a more refined focus on who they do promotions with, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind in the future.
Note: If you’re looking for a great way to get started with cross-promotions, you can use a tool like Lettergrowth for free.
4. Sponsoring Other Newsletters
On top of cross promotions, The GIST is also running ads in other newsletters.
This is one of my favorite ways for newsletters to grow when they’re testing out paid opportunities. Why?
They publish a newsletter, so getting in front of other people who read newsletters reduces the barrier to entry for them to sign up.
For example, if The GIST were to pay for an ad in a YouTube video, it might convert some people, but those people are video folks, not necessarily the people who read newsletters.
But, by getting in front of other newsletter audiences, you are more likely to convert people to your newsletter.
While they do run ads in large newsletters, they aren’t just focused on massive newsletters.
This is an ad they ran earlier this month in The Good newsletter, which has around 35,000 subscribers.
They took over a huge space at the top of the newsletter, and the first article is sports-focused. I have a feeling that wasn’t a coincidence.
Below that header with the main article, there is a call out for people to subscribe to The GIST.
I would love to see the numbers on how well this worked because it’s almost like a full takeover of the email that day from The Good.
Bonus: Getting Deep Into the Data
Many newsletters are focused on cost-per-acquisition (CAC) – essentially how much it costs to get a subscriber.
But The GIST goes a lot deeper into the numbers.
Because having a subscriber doesn’t mean that they will open the emails, or engage with your advertisers, The GIST team digs deeper to keep a quality subscriber base.
They actually keep track of data like:
- Cost per open
- Cost per click
- Revenue per open
While this might sound like overkill for our smaller newsletters, it makes a ton of sense when you’re running contests and co-registrations at scale like they are.
I wanted to bring this up to get your wheels turning around what numbers you can and should be tracking.
Just because everyone else is focused on a specific way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your business.
How You Can Use Some of These Growth Levers
Now, I know this whole story probably sounds way out of touch. I mean, huge brand partnerships, raising seed rounds, and being part of startup incubators?
But there are quite a few things I think we can learn from the story of The GIST.
1. Collaborate with Adjacent Audiences
While you don’t have to run full-blown giveaways, you should try to collaborate with some adjacent audiences to yours.
We saw this in the past with Mario Gabriele, where he collaborated with other writers to create content. Then they all promote it to their own audiences.
He’s done this lots of times and each one seems to just compound on the next.
Here are some other ideas you can use for collaborations:
- Cross promotions
- Giveaways and co-registrations
- Guest post on other sites
- Have them write a post for your site
- Newsletter takeovers – you write theirs for one issue and vice versa
No matter how you decide to collaborate, just make sure that the audience of that brand will include people that will resonate with your content.
2. Add Personality to Your Copy
This is something I’m a huge fan of and brought up in a recent Twitter thread here. I am not a fan of boring copy when it comes to most things.
The GIST has created a brand voice that is like your best friend who just happens to love sports.
Here is a great example of their humanistic copy being implemented on a cross-promotion:
If you know anything about women’s soccer, Rose Lavelle is one of the stars of the US Women’s National Team.
If you’re a reader of the GIST you likely know who she is, so it makes so much sense in this context.
Are there ways within your newsletter, website, or landing page copy that you can add some personality to?
3. Keep The Quality of Your Email List High
This one has me kind of torn. While the goal is to make sure you only have people who open your emails on your list, I’ve heard a lot of conflicting advice around this one.
Some people say that cleaning your list if you aren’t in the hundreds of thousands is kind of pointless.
A lot of email clients these days (like Apple Mail and others) will either show all of your emails being opened or none of them. Even if your readers are opening and reading your content, it might show as not being opened.
By using automatic tools that will remove people who don’t open, you might be getting rid of some of your biggest fans. Of course, you can ask people to click a link to show they are still interested, but even then it’s not a perfect science.
And if you do that too frequently, you might annoy some of your readers.
However, with things like co-registrations, it almost seems necessary to keep those parts of your list clean since the quality is a bit lower to start with.
4. When In Doubt, Default to Relevance
One of the throughlines I found throughout this whole deep dive was the importance of relevance when it comes to promotions.
- Choose to do cross-promotions to those with relevant audiences.
- Run giveaways and co-registrations with people who have adjacent, but relevant audiences.
- Sponsor other newsletters with relevant audiences.
It’s all about relevance.
If you run a weekly newsletter and have one spot for a cross-promotion in each email, that means you can only run 52 cross-promotions per year.
I’ve made the mistake of seeing a high subscriber count and thinking it would turn into subscribers for me. But the reality is that those performed far worse than a relevant newsletter with a quarter of the subscriber count.
Quality is more important than quantity in this business. And there are hundreds of thousands of newsletters you can partner with.