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The FT’s Kritasha Gupta: The power of niches, newsletters and audiences

The media face so many challenges that it is hard to focus on just one problem, Kritasha Gupta, head of business development at the Financial Times, tells Ashley Norris. But, she emphasises, we need to go always go back to what the audiences want.

Can a media company exhibit two seemingly contradictory brand values? In many ways, the Financial Times is perceived to be reliable, consistent, and arguably slightly safe. Yet it was among the earliest news organisations to embrace online content, instituted a paywall way before it was fashionable, and has not been afraid to use technological innovation to enhance its content offering.

In recent years, the FT has placed much of its emphasis on growth in its innovative approach to niches. 

Diving into the margins

Generalist, mass-scale news providers are increasingly under threat, but niches have provided the foundations for successful companies like Dotdash Meredith, Future, and Barstool. As The Rebooting’s Brian Morrissey wrote in a 2002 newsletter titled “The Flight to Niche – Narrowing focus isn’t narrowing ambition”: “Even big companies will strive to be a collection of niches more than big, bland institutional brands.”

While the FT has explored a wealth of content niches, Kritasha Gupta, its head of business development, says there are plenty more to delve into.

Kritasha was a speaker at Mx3’s recent media event in Barcelona, and she shared how the FT develops mini-brands in a podium conversation.

She told us in an on-the-record interview on the event sidelines afterwards that it is not about exploiting niches for niche’s sake but giving readers the information they need.

She acknowledges that the media faces a tough and complex situation, but emphasises that everything comes back to understanding audiences.

“There are so many challenges that it’s almost hard to focus on one right now. I mean, we’re hearing that AI is coming. What do we do now that media spends are going down? I’m not super fazed by any of this though. Our challenge is the same as it has been from the beginning. It doesn’t change, and that is, ‘How do we keep understanding what audiences want, especially in an era where distractions abound?’

“If we’re doing that, we’ll be okay. I think we need to find ways of maintaining sustainable revenue. And is that coming from subscriptions? Is it coming from ads? I think it has to be all of the above. I’m not super worried, we’ll figure it out.”

Kritasha Gupta on the podium at Mx3 Barcelona

How niche is niche?

Companies that have delved into niches have to ask themselves “how niche they should go”. Is their potential, for example, debuting a newsletter with a target audience as small as, say, 50-100 global executives? And do you continue to go deeper into the niche sectors, possibly cannibalising your existing revenue?

Kritasha says these are real questions publishers like the FT are grappling with. She urges media companies to seek bold and imaginative solutions.

“I think the big question that we need to contend with at the FT, and probably for any kind of big publisher, is the next phase for niches. The FT has built a lot of these mini-brands (that feature a newsletter, online content and sometimes a podcast) that cater to the needs of those audiences. We’ve covered a lot of the top-level verticals, so we’ve got something on climate and markets, and on M&A, and so on.

“But the next question is, do we just keep building more of these and finding new ways of reaching these audiences? Or do we also start looking a bit deeper and start building even deeper niches? I think that’s something we have to figure out and contend with.”

At the vanguard of the FT’s niche campaign is its email newsletters. The publication is no recent convert to newsletters’ personalised nature and powerful engagement potential, and has been offering them since the early 00s.

It now boasts a range of over 40 newsletters covering areas as diverse as cryptocurrency, due diligence, Brexit and climate change. Some are built around the writer’s personality, such as Inside Politics featuring Stephen Bush, while others are more general, with a variety of voices. More news-focused emails are sent daily, while others are weekly or twice weekly.

Several newsletters are supported by podcasts, including Unhedged written by Robert Armstrong, which focuses on big investor issues. Newsletters are either free, open to subscribers, or only for premium subscribers.

Kritasha says the success of the newsletter strategy, and the way their numbers continue to grow, is largely down to the team managing the newsletters who “constantly obsess” over the key metrics.

“The newsletter editing team is not the same as the newsletter editor of that specific newsletter,” she explains. That means they scrutinise the newsletter independently down to whether a headline works.

“We then have a constant feedback loop of what people are caring about and not caring about, and then we’re constantly iterating on them. That’s powerful.

“We just have to be really conscious about what we’re launching and making sure that it’s not something that exists elsewhere. Ultimately it all comes down to what kind of content we serve and when. How can we be even more laser-focused on what that person is doing in their day? And how can we best serve them, whether that is in the content we’re producing or in the way that we are interacting with them.”

Niche chatbots

A week after the MX3 event, the FT announced the launch of a new AI-powered product called Ask FT “that can answer questions its subscribers ask”.

“Similar to generalised AI bots (like ChatGPT, Copilot, or Gemini), users can expect a curated natural language answer to whatever they want to know — but with answers derived from the outlet’s decades of published information rather than sources that are harder to explain or are subject to ongoing legal action. So don’t expect it to give you an answer for the best recipe for fettucini alfredo,” said The Verge.

Only a few hundred of the FT’s most cherished subscribers have access to the chatbot, but it is easy to see how it can repurpose the publication’s content (and perhaps some previously unavailable external content and data) and further bolster The FT’s niche offerings.

Watch our interview with Kritasha here: