The Squiz has been quietly but steadily growing since it first appeared just over a year ago. Launched in March 2017 by former press secretary to Tony Abbott turned Woolworths spinner Claire Kimball, it now has 13,000 subscribers and a new daily podcast.
The idea had been germinating for a while before she took the leap, and it was a simple one: a daily news wrap in inboxes by 6am, to get busy people across the news before work. Initially, she thought the target would be professional women, but about a quarter of subscribers are men, which she sees as a growth area.
“It’s that time of day where you just need enough just to get started, and it’s not slapping you in the face with hard news or being opinionated,” Kimball told Crikey. “It’s broken down, it’s a bit engaging, you know what you’re going to get, which is a good spread of news, bit of economics and business and something that’s a bit of fun at the bottom. The reliability of it is something that is making it easy for people.”
Kimball isn’t a journalist, but the core product isn’t too different from the news briefing emails she would send out when working for Tony Abbott, or when she was at Woolies.
“I’ve been writing media summaries for years for my own business executives, or in politics when we needed to get across the messages of the day really quickly. It’s something I’ve been doing for a really long time,” she said.
She writes for a few hours early every evening, usually done in time to watch 7.30 on the ABC, and then is up again about 3.30am to check what’s happened overnight, do any rewriting or changes, and get the newsletter out. And for the past few weeks, she and Squiz commercial director Kate Watson have been recording a short podcast news wrap, also out by 6am, which Watson produces. As of last week, this has about 3000 listeners a day.
Watson said they had been surprised there wasn’t already a short-form, early morning news wrap podcast on the market in Australia. “Voice is the future of how people are going to consume this stuff. And on top of anything, we just thought, well that’s useful. If you’re on a run or at the gym or in your car, that’s actually helpful, so let’s see if we can do it,” she said.
Kimball and Watson met about 10 years ago, when they were both working in Abbott’s office. They’ve been friends since, and have been talking about The Squiz since before Kimball finished up at Woolies towards the end of 2016. At the beginning of this year, Watson left her job at Sky as a producer running commercial partnerships to join The Squiz full-time.
“The concept isn’t new,” Kimball said, when asked about competitors. In fact, Crikey has its own version in the Crikey Worm, as does The Saturday Paper with The Briefing. “If anyone wants to get up at three o’clock in the morning and give it a go, go for your life. It’s bloody hard. I think, though, we’ve got a product that works, and that’s the important thing.”
They attribute their success to their authenticity — Kimball’s writing style is relaxed and engaging, and their podcast is recorded in one take.
The next step is to get some investment money to help drive engagement. “We’re probably as much interested in the engagement rate as we are the audience size because that’s key to the proposition. I just don’t want to get up and write an email that only 10% of the database is opening,” Kimball said.
“All the indications say there’s an audience waiting for us to get to them, so that’s our next challenge, and that’s why we need some investment to expand our reach and go as hard as we can on that.”