How Politico’s Playbook Will Go on Without Mike Allen

“It’s going to be a challenge for them to succeed without the talented people who are leaving,” says a competitor

The nation’s top political reporters should update their resumes. With veteran Washington journalist Mike Allen leaving behind his must-read Playbook after the November election, the search for a new writer of the addictive daily newsletter is on.

A Politico insider told TheWrap the search for a new Playbook team will be “broad, both external and internal.”

There’s a lot at stake for founder and owner Robert Allbritton. Playbook brings in roughly $3 million in advertising per year, according to two executives familiar with advertising rates. That number grows significantly when you factor in Playbook Event Series, which is sponsored by Bank of America.

It’s unclear if anyone else in the political arena could command those types of ad dollars for what is essentially a daily memo, albeit an important memo that is a must-read for political influencers.

“This is going to be a challenge for Politico going forward, no doubt,” Bob Cusack, editor in chief of the rival political site The Hill, told TheWrap. “It’s going to be a challenge for them to succeed without the talented people who are leaving.”

In addition to Allen, CEO Jim VandeHei and COO Kim Kingsley and two other top executives announced last week that they were leaving this year.

Replacing Politico’s chief White House correspondent won’t be easy. Allen is described as an insomniac workaholic who shapes the political media conversation on a daily basis.

Politico’s co-founding editor John F. Harris once called Allen the publication’s “founding father” and Allen’s Playbook newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers. Allen was an early hire when Harris, VandeHei and publisher Robert Allbritton launched the company in 2007 and has been dominating morning political content ever since.

“It’s safe to assume” Allen commands at least $500,000 in annual salary, a former Politico employee with knowledge of the situation tells TheWrap. So it appears that Politico would have the cash to go after an experienced, big-name replacement.

Daniel Lippman helps Allen put “Playbook” together and even gets a byline these days. However, he graduated from George Washington University in 2012 and insiders don’t view him as a realistic option to carry the “Playbook” brand on his own.

Asked about the search process, Politico declined to comment beyond its statement about Allen’s departure: “No one reading this has done the exact same job for the last nine years — unless that reader is Mike Allen, who has written over three thousand Playbooks during that time. Mike will be with Politico through the election, committing himself to a successful transition that ensures Playbook and Playbook events are not only essentials for our audience, but fun as well.”

But during all-staff meeting on Friday, Allbritton hinted that the company may not be looking for a single person to fill Allen’s shoes. “The only way to replace a one-man army is with an army, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Allbritton said, according to CNN’s Dylan Byers.

Harris said the next version of Playbook will “not try to replicate Mr. Allen’s unique style,” in a New York Times interview published on Friday.

Politico also faces increasing competition from other political websites — possibly including a new venture from VandeHei and Allen that the journalist indicated in a recent Facebook post “will change the world one more time.”

There is no doubting the influence Playbook has had since its launch nearly a decade ago. For journalists, being picked up by Allen is a badge of honor. Allen’s daily briefing also includes everything from humorous tweets to a list of the day’s key birthdays.

The Playbook brand has been so successful that additional versions are now put together for Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, California, New Jersey and New York — as well as several foreign capitals. Playbook is a “Politico franchise that will grow and expand,” a company spokesperson told TheWrap.

The Brussels edition, written by Ryan Heath, has amassed nearly half the audience of Allen’s version in just the past year, suggesting that the format is bigger than any one person. Politico’s objective will apparently be to expand Playbook in a way that assumes the style and voice of whoever leads the next brand once Allen departs.

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