Could Half-a-Billion Dollar News Format Be Your Draft Proposal Template?

The media world is abuzz with the US$500m sale of an American news site. Axios (me neither) launched 2017, with at least $30m funding, The secrets of its success now enviously pored over. They appear built on two pillars;

  • old school newsletter drops daily, personalised for your specified topics, with added bonus of severing reliance on Big Social algorithms (although not their cash, as Facebook have sponsored their newsletter), &
  • fitting all the salient points on a single phone screen, apparently in a way beyond the wits of anyone else.

It is this latter angle which is of interest to us here. The inevitable book is due late-22. Titled as their internal term for this very tactic; Smart Brevity. Could it provide a decent template for an early stage of our own Proposal writing?

Disillusionment greeted my first dive in to their feeds.

It proved tough to get over the underpinning agenda of the 'journalism'. Nothing wrong in partisan leaning - despite feeling like a good trick missed. Yet the actual reporting felt like that of a nocturnal basement-dweller, eschewing cross-checking and untroubled by any rigour of adult scrutiny.

On day of first visit, the top story was the shocking frenzied stabbing attempted murder of author Salman Rushdie. Yet their portrayal was worryingly inadequate. Inaccuracies, misleading conflation with unrelated issues, and cornerstone nuance omitted.

It's also a struggle to think that our thrust should match their 'high concept' [see my most recent posts citing this technique, from 2018 around Uber, 2019 from movie loglines & of the UK PM in 2021] combo pairing of The Economist and Twitter. Whatever your opinions on their particular shaping (eg, globalisation zealotry from those confusing censorship and freedom?), 'dispensing with all but theses and bullets' feels a Prop stretch. Who wants to see another unwelcome, meandering, overloaded presentation slide?

Still, structure is what we're after. Let's take whoever made the most recent edit to the Wikipedia line. Notwithstanding that Axios are open about paying people to ensure favourable such entries.

"...articles are typically brief and matter-of-fact; most are shorter than 300 words and use bullet points so they are easier to scan."

Let our thought experiment crackle on.


Clickbait framing shows their intro element trio; headline, pic, & lede.
If enticed, you're then encouraged to Go Deeper. Typically for a '2 min. read →' (although 1s & 3s also occur).

Headlines tend not to be sentence long. Though not especially tabloid. But often, I noted at this time, missing the end point on the classic 'the train hit the buffers' subject-verb-object phrasing. So in keeping with another theme, fairly 'declarative'. It ought be relatively straightforward for us to fashion something similar from our prospect perspective and the issue they have at hand.

The visual tends to be simple. Although when I scrolled there was an impression of press agency stock library mixed with creative commons usage akin to the likes of unsplash. We again could simply build on this approach. Even the most seemingly intangible of projects can yield an associated photo. Then there's always the chart or diagram alignment.

As for the lede, a summary scoping the item in its entirety is crafting we should know regardless of this format's rubric.


I initially found the upper word limit to be 400. Then on later visit encountered an unusual longer read. Yet they each follow similar flow.

For over a decade during my own blogging here, I too deployed this same limit. Though I opt now for more variety, I sense concerns over reader attention span widely reign. I myself always sought the nicest balance between getting unique depths of my point across as succinctly as able. Loving the old dictum presaging an interminably long treatise; 'sorry, I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so you've a long one instead'.

The discipline is worthwhile though. Especially when delivering a first-pass. Prospects will thank you for it. And competition will unlikely offer a similar approach. Distinguishing you as both diligent, creative, and genuinely caring of predicament seeking redress.


Most posts display at least three or four such sectional titles. At times, becoming the first word or three of the fuller, opening line.

Whilst options likely abound, the initial one tends to be along these lines;

Why it matters, Driving the news, The big picture.

Then as the text continues, there's more choice. Including those specific to the story itself. (For instance a climate piece included subheading of Threat level.) Yet these useful alternate generics feature;

What/Where/When it's happening, Zoom in, In Focus, The intrigue, What they're saying, Yes but, The other side, Meanwhile, Between the lines, Don't forget, The bottom line, What's next.

Many of which wouldn't feel out of place directly transported onto our draft outline Prop.


Each heading features an opening summary sentence, mostly followed by at least one bullet point.

My Sales documenting experience suggests the blanket use of this method alone does not make it easier to scan prose. Other tools and techniques are readily available. From alternating font type, colours, size, background or margins to unexpected separating punctuation. Even rare gems such as sparklines. The point being - with due regard to ocular inclusivity - mix it up.


Our perhaps simplest use-case with biggest impact surrounds the initial draft. The first outline that we run through with our greatest fan prospect-side.

Indeed, if you're involved in regularly unveiling such, then a Pre-Proposal Meeting is likely a key component of your sales path.

The hardest part is getting something down on paper. Which you then mould into shape. With the help of your prospect. In collaboration, as a jointly owned piece of work.

There's a chance that deploying these types of smart brevity for your first-run ideas may well give you a boost.

If for no other reasons than it proves that you've actually done some work ahead of time rather than lazily winging it, allows ownership to build jointly from giving a prospect the joy of editing your work, and is likely distinct from how any competing forces go about their work.

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