7.5 mins

Friday Feature: The Merge

How The Merge is mastering effective organic growth.

Dylan Redekop

How The Merge is mastering efficient, organic growth.

Mike Benitez is a retired army veteran. He’s also the brains behind The Merge—a unique newsletter targeting an equally unique audience of fighter pilots and military personnel.

Just by leveraging his existing audience, smart ad bundling, and incentives that actually excite his readers, Mike has propelled his newsletter to new heights.

The best part? His strategies can be stolen for your newsletter.

In this Friday Feature, we’re breaking down how Mike has done it so you can learn how to:

  • Leverage your audience for both growth and content creation
  • Save time and expand reach with ad bundling strategies
  • Craft a referral program that actually resonates with your audience

So, buckle up and let's dive in!

#1 - Leveraging your audience for growth AND content

The Merge wouldn’t be where it is today without its readers.

It sounds like a tired cliché, right?

It’s easy to look at a growing subscriber list with dollar signs for eyes. 🤑

But Mike sees more in his audience.

The Merge leverages the power of an engaged & growing audience to not only monetize his newsletter with ads and affiliate links but to help grow his newsletter and bring him content ideas.

“I have a feedback button that takes [subscribers] to a Google form every week to get feedback. Once I ran a poll asking ‘What should The Merge do next?’ the overwhelming response was ‘start a podcast’,” Mike told us in our recent chat.

He's since launched The Merge as a podcast, creating another audience touchpoint and opportunity for monetization.

🧐 Why it’s awesome

The main benefit of having an audience is obvious: revenue.

But if revenue is your only focus, you are — ironically — leaving money on the table.

Newsletter subscribers can help with growth AND content too. Which eases the burden on you.

→ More content ideas from the source. Getting content ideas from the ones reading your content makes a lot of sense, right? Listen to the people!

→ Lower the chance of content falling flat. Content created based on readers' feedback is much more likely to resonate.

→ Growth via inexpensive word-of-mouth. Smart newsletter operators give their readers the opportunity to become brand ambassadors with smart, aligned incentives.

🙋 How The Merge does it

Mike has leveraged an audience (not always his, even) to grow his newsletter and new create content.

→ FB Group. When launching The Merge, Mike shared it with a fighter pilot FB group of ~2.5k people. He instantly had 300 subscribers. Instant growth.

→ Referral program reward. When a reader makes 3 referrals to The Merge (via a SparkLoop Referral Program), the reward is the chance to choose the topic for the next edition. Two birds, one stone.

→ The Debrief. Getting reader feedback is sorta important (understatement). Mike includes a “5-second Debrief” button at the bottom of his emails which links to a Google Form for feedback in 5 seconds (or more, if including a comment). PS: “Give us feedback” is boring, which makes ‘The Debrief’ that much smarter. It’s fresh, unique, and on-brand.

✏️Steal this for your newsletter​

You’ve put the effort into growing an audience — it’s time to reap the rewards.

Lean on your audience for Growth…

→ Start a Referral Program and have your audience (ie. your subscribers) spread the word about your newsletter for you.

Lean on your audience for Content…

→ Get creative with feedback (like Mike). Some of the best newsletter ideas come from readers. So ask for feedback—but don’t be boring about it. Get creative, gamify it, incentivize it.

🎧 Bonus: Learn about other creative ways Mike is growing The Merge in our recent chat

#2 - Efficiency with Ad bundling

Even when ad budgets are flowin’, filling ad inventory still takes precious time:

  • finding sponsors
  • cold emailing
  • negotiating rates
  • getting ad creative…

…it’s all time-consuming.

During our chat, Mike mentioned how he bundles ads with another newsletter.

"Another newsletter that's probably three times the size of The Merge with strong audience overlap, we've joined forces, combining metrics for potential advertisers." - Mike Benitez

This is nothing new to big media, but it’s rarely executed on a smaller scale.

🧐 Why it’s awesome

Bundling your newsletter audience with another newsletter is smart. It’s a win-win-win:

→ Advertisers get access and exposure to a larger audience ✅

→ The newsletters can split up the work. ✅✅

🙋 How The Merge does it

Mike partnered with another newsletter 3x The Merge’s size to bundle their ads.

“They actually brought the idea to me, so I give them all the credit,” Mike told us when discussing his newsletter ad bundling with the International Intrigue newsletter.

The two newsletters have an overlap in audience demographics and topic interest. They combine their audiences & metrics, like a small sponsor network, making the pitch that much stronger to potential advertisers interested in reaching their target audience.

In doing so, Mike can offload some of the work of finding advertisers and focus on creating content.

“And then we adjust the revenue share based on audience size and work and who brought what [advertiser] deal.”

✏️ Steal this for your newsletter

This is a unique approach more newsletter operators should consider.

Bundling ads with another newsletter can free up valuable time and boost your earning potential.

Get started by finding a complimentary newsletter or two to partner with. Sort out the details of the partnership and start pitching sponsors.

#3 - Creating Desirable Sharing Incentives

Mike was one of the first SparkLoop Referral Program users—and The Merge’s referral program has been huge for growth.


Because Mike understands his audience and knows what they want.

Thanks to that, he’s created the perfect referral program for his super niche audience. He’s also crafted giveaways that drive growth because of the rare and sought-after prizes.

🧐 Why it’s awesome

Understanding your readers and knowing what will motivate them to act (like referring a newsletter) is a massive advantage.

Justin Moore realized that his Creator Wizard subscribers didn’t want another checklist or template—they wanted sponsorship opportunities. So Justin provides hours of research to help readers get brand sponsorships…in exchange for one referral.

Aleyda Solis understands her SEOFOMO readers want access to expensive SEO tools. So the grand prize for her SEOFOMO giveaways is $thousands in SEO software and education. The chance to win = one referral. These rewards helped SEOFOMO through growth plateaus to reach major subscriber milestones.

🙋 How The Merge does it

The Merge’s audience is fighter pilots and military personnel—and Mike happens to be a retired fighter pilot. He’s intimately aware of what his readers want.

Mike’s referral program & giveaways include rewards that are…

Timely. The Merge offered an F-18 Lego set as a giveaway prize when Top Gun Maverick was released in 2022.

→ Viral. A recent popular giveaway prize included a Taiwanese Air Force badge which was going viral online at the time.

→ Supportive. The Merge promoted a friend's book launch by including it as a giveaway prize.

→ Unique & Rare. Give away something your readers can ONLY get from you. In a recent giveaway, The Merge gave away a rare A-10 bullet casing—something you can’t buy—which drove over 2.8k new subscribers. For 300 referrals, referrers will receive a certified American flag flown in a fighter jet.

✏️ Steal this for your newsletter

You’re probably not a retired fighter pilot — nor is your audience likely to be in the national security space.

But the core principles making The Merge’s referral program & giveaways effective can work for any newsletter. You just need to get to know your audience as well as Mike knows his. If you don’t know them well yet…

→ Get Inside Your Reader’s Head. Conduct a survey, create a feedback tool, or host a virtual Q&A session to get to know your readers better.

→ Think Outside the Box. Free eBooks or discount codes can work… but they’re unlikely to move the needle. Reflect on current trends, events, or insider perks that could make for captivating rewards.

→ Make it Exclusive. The A-10 bullet casing The Merge offered was exclusive and rare—something readers couldn't find anywhere else. What you can offer that sets you apart from other newsletters?

→ Make it Shareable. If your reward is as cool & unique as a certified American flag that's flown in a fighter jet, readers will share it.

Adding it up…

MMike's tailored approach to understanding his unique audience offers valuable insights smart newsletter operators can use to grow & maintain their newsletters.

By creatively leveraging sharing incentives, ad bundling, and audience participation, The Merge has created an engaged community that both supports and benefits from his work.

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