Hi! Welcome to the Insider Advertising daily for December 31. I'm Lauren Johnson, a senior advertising reporter at Business Insider. Subscribe here to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday. Send me feedback or tips at [email protected]

For today's newsletter, the last of the year, we're recapping the year's biggest stories. The pandemic and financial crisis shook up the advertising and media industries, which is reflected in our top stories that span ad agencies, brands, media companies, and the influencer industry.

Our advertising and media team has grown significantly this past year to produce this journalism. To read the below stories, learn about our subscription offers here.

Read the 20 stories that subscribers couldn't get enough of this year.

  • Red Bull fires top North American executives following internal controversy over Black Lives Matter and the leak of an offensive presentation slide
    Patrick Coffee reported on Red Bull firing its top executives over the brand's handling of Black Lives Matter and internal slides that contained what insiders called racist stereotypes.
  • Cision and Meltwater, the two largest PR software companies, are planning a merger, and the DoJ has explored whether it would hurt competition
    Patrick and Sean Czarnecki broke the news of the planned merger, which was probed by the Justice Department antitrust division.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk is charging up to $250,000 to help companies shake up their e-commerce operations. Here's the pitch deck.
    Lucia Moses wrote about serial entrepreneur-slash-lightning rod Gary Vaynerchuk's big bet on e-commerce. 
  • Marvel insiders say they're skeptical of its recent pledge to improve diversity in its comics and company, after employing only 2 Black editorial staffers in the last 5 years
    Travis Clark spoke to former and current Marvel editors who said the company had recommitted to nostalgia and classic, mostly white characters, often at the expense of diverse characters like Miles Morales, a biracial Spider-Man.

  • Newsletter company TheSkimm faces an uncertain future after dashed acquisition attempts, deep layoffs, and executive pay cuts
    Lucia and I reported that once-buzzy newsletter outlet TheSkimm was facing questions about its future after layoffs and attempts to sell the VC-backed company.
  • Investors from the DTX Company, Forerunner, Greycroft, and others name the 16 direct-to-consumer startups that will take off in 2020
    Before COVID hit and upended how people shop, Tanya Dua asked 16 investors to pick the direct-to-consumer brands poised to take off. Their picks included health supplement company 8Greens and astrology app Co Star.

  • Insiders at Complex Networks said the company was built on Black culture but that the sales team 'whitewashed' advertising deals for brands, replacing Black people with white people in pitch decks
    Ashley Rodriguez and I examined Complex Networks after former employees spoke out about microaggressions and unfair treatment of Black staffers at the company.
  • Inside the biggest independent ad agency, The Richards Group, where some say an old-school culture that included all-male retreats fueled racism and sexism
    Patrick and Tanya reported on the culture at The Richards Group after founder Stan Richards's controversial comments led clients to fire the agency.

  • How millennial-news network Cheddar is trying to find its way in streaming TV after a $200 million exit last year and big layoffs during the pandemic
    Ashley spoke with Cheddar's founder, former employees, and analysts about the future of its "post-cable-network" model following layoffs and consolidation during the pandemic.
  • Inside the marketing strategy for HBO Max, AT&T's $4 billion answer to Netflix
    WarnerMedia made a big bet on streaming this year with HBO Max. Ashley interviewed Katie Soo, who oversees growth marketing for HBO Max, about how the streaming service used social media and pop culture to gain adoption.

  • $1 billion startup Rent the Runway has furloughed 35% of its employees. Its future is now in question as coronavirus ravages retail.
    Tanya looked at the questions facing direct-to-consumer star Rent the Runway as the pandemic hit the company.
  • Advertising giant Dentsu just announced huge job cuts. Insiders are speculating about how they'll play out and the growing influence of data agency Merkle.
    Patrick, Tanya, and Lara O'Reilly talked with Dentsu employees about what's next for the ad holding company after it announced plan to slash 6,000 jobs.

  • The cautionary tale of a marketing agency that ad giant WPP acquired for $300 million and shut down 4 years later
    When WPP announced that it was shutting down shopper marketing firm Triad Retail, I examined what went wrong for the 15-year-old agency.
  • Leaked Fashion Nova campaign briefs reveal what it's offering to pay influencers for sponsored content, which some managers say is far below market rate
    Some influencer-marketing insiders say fashion brand Fashion Nova has lowball pricing on sponsored content and an emphasis on "gifting" that feels out of step with the marketplace, Amanda Perelli found.

  • Employees at Omnicom Group-owned ad and public relations agency GMMB asked for a conversation about 'systemic racism and inequity' at the firm and shared a list of 34 proposed reforms
    GMMB was a favorite firm for progressive causes, but some employees said the firm failed to live up to its stated values.
  • How TalentX plans to rule TikTok, starting with 32 influencers and a Los Angeles mansion
    Dan Whateley wrote about how talent management company TalentX is betting big on TikTok, including poaching talent from AT&T's Otter Media.

  • 15 Quibi insiders detail Jeffrey Katzenberg's tight control of the startup's content and intense leadership as he tries to avoid disaster after raising $1.8 billion
    The implosion of short-form video app Quibi was one of the biggest stories of 2020. Ashley, Tanya, and Becky Peterson chronicled the startup's rapid rise and fall.
  • 'I believe I got scammed': Influencers say a talent-management firm required they pay $299 'deposits' up front and wouldn't refund them. Then it shut down.
    Sydney Bradley dug up the story about talent-management firm IQ Advantage asking influencers to pay a $299 deposit to help them grow their followings and get brand deals.

  • New WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar is moving to shake up Hollywood. Insiders are questioning if he has what it takes to turn around the entertainment giant without destroying it.
    Claire Atkinson reported Kilar was getting mixed reviews as he reorganizes the company around streaming.
  • Insiders say TikTok rival Triller reported monthly active users that were 5 times higher than what some internal metrics showed
    Employees at buzzy TikTok competitor Triller told Dan that the app inflated key metrics like monthly active users.

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