Interview With Spotify's TK Breuer, Manager of Internal Communications
On his thrice-weekly newsletter and playlist recommendations
Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening…and happy Fall 🧣🎃🍂
🚨BREAKING: Google will try “hybrid” work-from-home models.
Most employees don’t want to come in every day, according to a recent Google survey of its employees’ desires for post-pandemic work.
“I see the future as being more flexible,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in an interview with Time magazine. “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.”
Welcome to the second edition of Mister Editorial’s monthly interview series. The first one featured Carolyn Clark, Senior Director of Internal Communications at GoDaddy. Read it here.
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TK Breuer is the Internal Communications Manager at Spotify, a fitting role for someone who is a) passionate about internal communications and b) is in a band. He’s coming up on his first anniversary at Spotify. Previous to this role, TK worked in internal comms at Bloomberg.
Spotify, which is publicly-traded and headquartered in Stockholm, is probably what you’re listening to as you read this interview. The company boasts 299 million monthly users worldwide. In Q2 this year, Spotify generated $1.89 billion. The company is also making headlines lately, like when it recently announced a deal with podcasting juggernaut Joe Rogan.
In this interview, TK:
talks about Spotify’s thrice-weekly(!) newsletter and their editorial strategy,
shares a tech tip on how to pepper your newsletter with emoji, and
gives advice to those just starting their comms career (hint: “take jobs adjacent to comms”).
⚡ In the lightning round, TK shares his go-to Spotify playlists.
I spoke with TK by video call on August 6 while he was working from home (from his couch, fending off pings from G-chat). The following is an edited version of our conversation.
Describe what you do at Spotify.
You can think of me as an editor-in-chief of The Note, which is our internal newsletter that goes out three times a week to 6,500 employees worldwide. It’s playful, fun, informative, and engaging. I also manage internal content and our distribution platforms.
What does the Internal Comms team look like?
I report to the Director of Internal Communications. I have a colleague in London who is responsible for all of our consumer markets and works closely with our strategy team. For example, when we launch Spotify in a new market, she helps coordinate internal comms and makes sure the messaging aligns with Spotify’s overall strategy.
We also have a team called Amplifier, which is responsible for video content, live event production, and virtual events.
Everyone on the comms team should consider internal comms a part of their job, which is great for our team because it means internal comms is never an afterthought—it's baked into every comms plan.
What’s the current state of remote working at Spotify?
We’ll continue to track local government guidelines city-by-city and take a phased approach of opening our offices when we deem it safe to do so. Our employees’ health and safety is our top priority. No employee will be required to come into the office and can choose to work from home through June 30, 2021.
Our crisis management team is evaluating the situation office by office, and will make decisions about re-opening based on local conditions. It’s too soon to say anything more than that right now.
What’s your editorial strategy?
We have three main buckets of content: 1) company strategy, 2) technology and innovation, and 3) culture and values.
Company strategy: Launching Spotify in a new market is a good example. We’ll discuss various facets, like how many potential users are in the area and the kind of content we’re producing for that specific market. One big strategic effort that we’re communicating heavily on is around Spotify’s move into podcasting and how that supports a long-term strategy.
Technology and innovation: Some instances that come to mind are how we’re improving our streaming service or showcasing our best-in-class engineers. We also highlight new product features, such as the recently launched simultaneous streaming feature called “Group Session Beta.” This allows you to stream music at the same time with friends around the globe.
Culture and values: This is about our people and events, like Pride Month, which is a really big deal at Spotify. We recognize that our most valuable asset is our people. We want to make sure everyone is represented in our comms. And some of the material in this bucket is about how we work with the creator community, such as Covid-19 relief efforts we started for musicians struggling through the pandemic.
Who are your internal audiences at Spotify?
A big portion of our employees is engineers. We also have teams that are dedicated to music, editorial, consumer, and podcasting. And we have the essential functions, like HR and Marketing,
Most of our employees are in Europe, followed by the Americas—Mexico is a growing market for us. APAC is also growing. To be honest, the audience keeps growing every day, which is incredibly exciting.
Do you publish newsletters? What’s in them?
We publish a newsletter three times a week! Each edition contains just three stories. It goes out at 7:00 AM ET on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, though sometimes it’s timed to release with a PR campaign. On other occasions it’s about an engineering experiment or a new product launch.
We usually don’t know what will be in the newsletter until we’re ready to compile. We adopted an agile approach. Every morning we meet and I pitch stories. The Director of IC will approve the stories, and I will mention the three stories on the all Comms call.
In today’s edition, for example, we discussed a new tool—an app that combined features and analytics for both musicians and music labels to access. The headline is “All Together Now” and we link to The Beatles’ song of the same name. In every newsletter there are usually two or three musical references.
The style is playful and a little tongue-in-cheek. We love emoji. If we’re talking about a market that’s experiencing rapid growth, we’ll throw in a flame 🔥. Summer listening trends get a sun ☀️ or a wave 🌊.
At the bottom of the newsletter is a list of virtual events, like professional development opportunities and town halls. In Thursday’s edition, we give a sneak peek to the week ahead.
What’s one tech tip you can share?
I use Emojipedia to get all the emoji for our newsletter.
We use Google tools, like Calendar and Sheets, to keep our team and stakeholders up-to-date on our editorial. I like it because I can @ people to get their attention. We also use Google Docs for editing before we load it into our newsletter platform, which is MailChimp. Using Google Docs saves so much email back-and-forth.
What advice do you have for someone entering internal comms today?
As cliché as it sounds, be willing to take risks. You won’t be able to grow without raising your hand for opportunities that initially seem uncomfortable. Lots of people are competing for these jobs, so take risks to get ahead.
Also, take jobs that aren’t traditionally in comms, but that are adjacent to it, like becoming an executive assistant [EA]. EAs get exposure to comms without being in the middle of it all—and from there, if you want, you can edge your way into internal comms. Personally, I think EAs are one of the most valuable positions in any organization.
⚡ LIGHTNING ROUND ⚡
What’s your go-to Spotify playlist?
I really like the Punk Unleashed playlist, which is actively curated.
I also like On Repeat, a personalized playlist.
If you were to read any memoir from a musician, who would it be and why?
J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. During quarantine, I rediscovered my love for guitar-driven 90s alt rock. It’s fun to see how the bands of today (like Bully’s latest record “Sugaregg” for example) draw influence from music nearly 20+ years ago.
Which traits do you most admire in others?
Compassion. Empathy. Integrity. That goes for friends and coworkers. If you aren’t your authentic self at work or in friendships, then I don’t want to bother with you.
What’s your favorite room at home and why?
I only have two rooms in a one-bedroom apartment. The living room has a comfortable couch and we have a record player and lots of photos from our travels. Sometimes I play my guitar in there.
What do your parents think you do for a living?
They think I work for a cool audio streaming company on an awesome comms team. They know what communications is, so they have an understanding. They think it’s a really cool and hip job, which it is!
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Part five: Publish to a Platform, Not Just a Channel