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Case Study: Ottawa Lookout and Beer Loop by Geoff Sharpe

Analyzing local news in the city and all things beer news in British Columbia

Geoff Sharpe has worked in media as a consultant, helping nonprofit media groups establish themselves and expand. In launching ‘Ottawa Lookout’ with co-founder Robert Hiltz and later ‘The Beer Loop’ with co-founder Josheph Lavoie, Geoff is, for the first time, founding and running a media business of his own. And he’s doing it fully bootstrapped. He notes that while there are certainly downsides to that, it enables a certain level of freedom you don’t have if you are answering to outside investors.

He and Robert saw the limited local news coverage in Ottawa and determined there was a need for a daily news round-up, delivered to the inbox, for Ottawans wanting to be more informed about their city. In addition to providing the broad coverage of local news that is often overlooked, ‘Ottawa Lookout’ embraces the pleasures of being an Ottawan with weekly questionnaires about the best ice cream offerings and features of nominated locals who are making a difference in the community.

There is even an Ottawa Wordle! Geoff and Joseph then launched the ‘Beer Loop’ newsletter, after identifying a similar gap in coverage on beer despite a strong beer culture in British Columbia. Geoff sees ‘Beer Loop’ as the first dip into beer/alcohol newsletters, an industry that has not yet embraced newsletters. For both newsletters, Geoff knows that integrating feedback from readers is absolutely critical. And so is providing a tangible product that readers can interact with on a daily or weekly basis. We spoke with Geoff about building out membership programs with lifestyle guides using beehiiv features and helping Ottawans live and drink their best lives in their home city.

The Newsletters: Ottawa Lookout and The Beer Loop

Founders: Geoff Sharpe, Josheph Lavoie and Robert Hiltz

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2022 Goals

For Ottawa Lookout, we want to hit 45,000 readers and generate $100,000 in revenue. We feel confident that this is possible. We would also like membership revenue to cover our core costs by the end of the year.

For the Beer Loop, the focus is on building deeper connections and relationships in the industry and positioning our publication as a place the British Columbia beer industry sees as a leader in the field. We would love to have around 8,000-10,000 email subscribers by the end of year.

Advice for other writers

A Lot of people say the key to a newsletter is great content. This is true. But if you want to grow quickly, you need to have strong understanding of different growth levers.

I’ve been doing paid media for over 10 years, with a big focus on audience acquisition. I can say that scaling lead gen, especially in media, is not easy. Most advertising companies don’t have these skills. Finding a growth marketer with paid acquisition experience early on can help jump-start your growth, moving up your growth targets by months or even years.

Favorite beehiiv feature

  1. The editor is an absolute breeze to use. I love how much time it has saved my team when inputting content.

  2. Segmentation! The analytics we can review is better than almost any other general purpose email marketing software I’ve used. The ability to analyze audiences by sign-up source and see how engaged they are has saved us money through our acquisition efforts, without requiring any advanced statistical/excel skills.

Previous newsletter platform and why you switched

I’ve used many different email platforms for different media companies. The biggest problem is that none of them fix the biggest pain points of email-based publishers - simple user interface, affordable price, simplicity to focus on content and a membership paywall that doesn't charge a lot. beehiiv fixed these big pain points, saved my team time and allowed us to focus on key business activities - creating good content, designing a good membership program - rather than non-essential things.

Advice for anyone considering a switch to beehiiv

Every few weeks they launch new features that make it even better. The price point is critical. We are saving hundreds of dollars each month.

Tell me about Ottawa Lookout and Beer Loop

Ottawa Lookout analyzes local news in the city. We help readers make sense of the biggest local stories. Beer Loop covers beer news in British Columbia - what to drink, where to visit, and reviews of breweries and beers. If it’s about BC beer, we cover it.

Both fall under the umbrella of helping people understand, enjoy and live their best lives in the communities they reside in.

Tell me about the lack of in depth, local news in Ottawa, how does the newsletter address this gap?

Ottawa is a weird market, it’s the capital of Canada, much like DC, so the media center is focused on federal politics, it’s where the center of gravity is. The local news is dominated by one company and they run two publications that are behind paywalls. They cover about 20% local and the rest is federal news. There are a lot of different sources out there, Ottawa is a big place, but no one was bringing the news and information Ottawans need in a seamless and accessible way. It’s working really well b/c there wasn’t anything like it in Ottawa.

In addition to news, you offer a membership level restaurant review offering, how is it different?

We also have a members-only newsletter that provides people with the city’s best restaurant reviews and dishes to order, a curated list of events and a whole bunch of ways to explore and love the city. We work with someone who does incredible food reviews and we decided to put up a paywall for this. We’re excited about launching additional verticals. We know that to keep people engaged, you need to offer products that are going to help people understand how to live their best lives in our city.

We’re still figuring out exactly what else we want to do on the membership side of things. We’re going to do events at some point. We’re excited about offering exclusive content, and that beehiiv is talking about developing ways to do segmented content. There’s not much quality content around what happens in local government, we can see creating a product that would benefit local institutions and companies that need to know what’s going on at City Hall. For now, the restaurant publication has been successful.

How do you see newsletters fitting into the news space?

Newsletters lend themselves to be more personality-based, that’s why you see a lot of creators using it. It’s why the NYT has an editorial voice to their daily newsletter. You want to wake up to someone talking to you in the morning. It’s why radio and tv shows are popular. I think a lot of publications are doing newsletters wrong. They use them to drive traffic to the website. It’s a huge missed opportunity to build a deeper relationship with readers. It’s maybe most important for emerging media companies, because it’s a leg up to build relationships with people. It helps you quickly engage an audience that didn’t exist in the past.

Newsletters aren’t replacing traditional media, they’re generally complementing it. It’s just that a lot of publications are bad at them, they’re just sending out links, so they open up spaces for competitors to succeed. So it ends up being a possible threat, because they are missing out on a valuable piece that newsletters offer.

Tell me about using ads on FB and other places to drive subscriber base.

It’s a function of not having the capacity to do more on the ground stuff. So we’ve focused more on advertising and asking our readers to share with family and friends. People like our product. We put our content in front of people, we get that initial engagement with readers. If you look at all these larger newsletters- Morning Brews, Daily Upsides, etc. they’re running a lot of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok ads. This might not work for more niche publications, but it’s worked for us and it helps that we have a team that knows about advertising and acquisition of new audiences. We are able to figure out how to keep costs low and scale audience acquisition. Beehiiv’s segmentation helps us see that the audience is actually good.

What have you learned about Ottawa and Ottawans that has surprised you?

I don’t currently live in Ottawa but I did previously. I really wish I had ‘The Ottawa Lookout’ when I lived there, I would have really enjoyed having that as a resource. I’m jealous I’m not able to go to some of the places we’ve reviewed. There’s an idea that it's a sleepy town, but for people who live there, it’s not. They love their city. I’ve learned that it’s an amazing city, which I didn’t necessarily know when I was living there.

The Beer Loop seems like a fun newsletter to report on!

Joseph, our writer, is a beer aficionado. He’s extremely knowledgeable and will eventually start his own brewery. He does the deeper stuff, the reviews of the beers, going out and trying new places. I work on engagement and other areas that make sense.

Where do you see The Beep Loop going?

I think we start small, proof of concept. Given what I've seen in the newsletter space. There are two ways you can go into a media industry, one is if you’re providing unique content. The other way is that your format is different. I look at the beer industry in Canada and I don’t see anyone focused on this, doing a newsletter like this. There are some beer publications, but I think they are lacking. I feel confident that if you can do this in one province in Canada, you can do it in others. There’s a lot of potential, we love beer out here. The quality is unbelievable.

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