The Rise of Substacks and What They Mean for Comms Teams

Over the past five years, there’s been a dramatic rise in Substacks and other newsletters as a key form of news and information sharing. Both user-friendly and engaging, Substacks foster direct reader-writer relationships – which has resulted in a growing community of independent writers. Substacks have become particularly appealing to journalists as newsrooms continue to shrink and consolidate. In fact, many have embraced the platform as an alternative way to earn a living and reach a targeted audience.

As more reporters embrace this fast-growing medium, so too have their readers, creating a new arena for PR and media interaction. By understanding Substack’s sharp rise and its authors’ unique platforms, media professionals can better partner with these creators to tell their clients’ stories, shape conversations and increase visibility. It’s a slightly unpredictable channel compared with traditional media because they are often focused on analyzing the impact of the news versus just covering its face value. So, comms pros need to be thoughtful about how they wade in.

Substacks have emerged partly with the rise of the influencer economy. Many top Substacks – some of which we’ll call out here – are penned by influential reporters who’ve monetized their expertise and reputations. In doing so, they’ve secured more influence and editorial freedom than they had in the newsroom.

Since Substacks often emphasize trends and analysis over hard news, they’re unlikely to cover products. In many ways, this aligns with other media, where product news has declined for a long time. Overall, Substacks are unlikely to cover products unless they’re hugely impactful or start a broader industry discussion.

Below, I’ll share a bit more about how comms pros can engage these creators.

<split-lines>"Many top Substacks are penned by influential reporters who’ve monetized their expertise and reputations."<split-lines>

What the Substackers Say

We recently did an AMA with Alex Kantrowitz, author of the popular “Big Technology” Substack, who told us he enjoys the freedom of not having an editor and being able to build a deeper relationship with his audience. His work is thoroughly reported and based on conversations with sources, so he thinks of himself very much as a reporter, even though the tone of Substacks can often read like that of an industry analyst.

Tech reporter Alex Wilhelm, who recently left TechCrunch to start his own Substack, “Cautious Optimism,” has said the difference between his newsletter and his old TechCrunch+ column is that he has “more latitude to riff.”

“So, expect more earnings and public market material along with late-stage startup news and IPOs, with occasional notes on topics that impact the business world, albeit less directly, like the preservation of democracy,” he said.

Pitching Substacks

To reach Substack authors, comms pros can actually pitch them much like they would a traditional media outlet. However, note that they tend to lean more into the characters and tension behind a story. They often feature notable industry leaders and go deep on their points of view and the stories behind their ideas.

Because they’re typically more opinionated, you’ll want to choose your Substack target carefully before pitching. Get to know the author well, understand how they’re likely to frame your story and provide the additional details they’ll need to round it out. This is true of all media, but even more so in a format that thrives on strong opinions, color and hot takes.

Many Substacks go deep on a particular technology or business topic, so don’t be afraid to get more in the weeds than you would with a traditional reporter, if that fits the Substack. Relatedly, Substack audiences are often highly engaged with a topic and care less about seeing a CEO being quoted just for the sake of it, so you can afford to offer practitioners who are more engaged with the topic day-to-day.

<split-lines>"Because they’re typically more opinionated, you’ll want to choose your Substack target carefully before pitching."<split-lines>

A Valuable Medium

Substacks are a fast-growing medium for PR teams and can be extremely valuable for storytelling and brand building. There’s great value and visibility to be had, but the dynamics require a more thoughtful and tailored approach compared to traditional media.

Nevertheless, happy pitching!

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