On July 31, 2023, 6AM City launched WStoday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By the time the first newsletter published, 4,731 subscribers had already signed up. 6AM’s twenty-sixth market, WStoday is a perfect example of the model and process the company has created – and is continuing to evolve – for launching new markets.
WStoday marks a refinement in our launch strategy that we hope to take to all future markets: namely, identifying partners pre-launch so that we can be as profitable as possible – and thus have more resources and support for our team – even before day one. So how did we do it?
Winston-Salem + 6AM = A Perfect Match
6AM City is interested in finding communities with high levels of Pride in Place, a Core Value that shapes how we think about our products and the residents and visitors to our markets. Winston-Salem, the City of Arts and Innovation, fit this profile – with a growing population, several universities and colleges, and a thriving arts sector, it was a natural place for 6AM.
Our VP of Expansion, Michael Mazzara, had early conversations with the market’s stakeholders, including the city’s chamber and economic development entity, Greater Winston-Salem Inc. The CEO of the chamber, Mark Owens, was formerly the CEO of Greer, South Carolina – a city adjacent to Greenville, the location of our original market (GVLtoday).
“He had seen the impact GVLtoday had on elevating the community and was feeling that Winston-Salem had seen major business publications, like the Business Journal, focus on the greater Triad area [which includes Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point] or local publications reduce from daily or weekly to monthly,” Mazzara says. “He was committed to getting more coverage of the market.”
That conversation started in 2021, but real developments took place two years later when Mazzara met with the Chamber’s SVP of Strategy. Once these more proactive discussions started, the timeline to launch was about four to six months.
Identifying Early Support
Key to ensuring that WStoday would be sustainable and profitable from day one. Mazzara and 6AM City’s CEO Ryan Johnston worked to create a launch partnership, which they then pitched to potential partners in the community.
These are relationships that 6AM continues to cultivate in the market. Currently, Mazzara is working to meet local community organizers and leaders, like launch partners, race directors, and brewery owners, to structure co-promotional partnerships with them that will grow WStoday’s subscribers while supporting local.
The fact that we have built a robust brand recognized for excellence across the country also means we can use that foundation to excite the new communities we move into. Mazzara notes that he was impressed by “how many advertisers in adjacent markets were excited to commit to a city that hadn’t been launched yet. It was a testament to the value they’d received in other markets that they’d blindly commit.”
“If You Build It, They Will Come”
Once launch details were finalized, the Growth Marketing team stepped in to support and do technical setup on the back and front ends of the WStoday website. They also set up the email list and referral program, and supported a few partner giveaways at launch.
“Because we’ve done a number of these now (18 since I started), the process gets smoother and easier each time,” says Kimberly Cutler, Director of Growth Marketing. She echoes Mazzara: “It was also really exciting to see how many partners were excited to work with us right off the bat and have us join their community.”
Assistant Editorial Director Erin McPherson stepped in to support all things Editorial prior and up to launch. As the Managing Editor for the market launch, she led the hiring and was responsible for coordinating with the Marketing team to deliver early content to help support promotion efforts and rapid audience growth.
“The WS audience has proven to be so enthusiastic and supportive of our newsletter product in this market,” says McPherson. “We have really great launch partners who support the communication of our efforts as well, which has really helped to build relationships early on. We also had a great pool of candidates and were able to hire really strong talent in this market!”
What We Learned
While the launch overall was an incredible success for 6AM City and will shape how we launch new markets going forward, we are always curious about what could go better so we can improve for next time.
The Editorial team noted that timelines for producing large pieces of early content, like robust guides and articles, was challenging “prior to having dedicated editors hired for the market,” shares McPherson. Because this was the first launch using the CMS Brightspot, which 6AM transitioned to in 2022, there were also some learning curves as the Marketing team built the website.
The support on the front end of the launch allowed the two City Editors hired to step in and take the reins for a market where many people already know about the newsletter. “WS readers have been loving our products,” says City Editor Kellina Wanteu. “When I go out at events and mention WStoday, those that have heard of it tell us how much they love it. They say [it] keeps them updated on everything.”
City Editor Cambridge Wrege agrees. “It felt a tad intimidating to be one of the people responsible for bringing 6AM’s brand to a new place,” she says. “Luckily, my colleagues and company leaders offered all the support I needed in the way of training, mentoring, and encouraging me to try new things. I knew my neighbors would be welcoming, but the reception has been better than I anticipated. Engaging with readers who know who we are and appreciate what we’re offering is really rewarding. It’s been fun to develop our voice in the market and introduce our product to Winston-Salem.”
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of multiple teams at 6AM City, WStoday currently has more than 20,000 subscribers, and it is the new blueprint for launching elsewhere. Curious about WStoday, or any other market we’ve launched? Follow along with WStoday by subscribing here – and check out and subscribe to all of our markets here.