Takes so hot they might burn you

They definitely won’t but please play along

Hi, everyone! Big, big news out of Smooth HQ this week: 1) We made a stellar hire that we’re so excited about (more on that next week 😈) and 2) we’re about to do the same thing again.

We’re currently looking for a brand partnerships associate to join our team, sling some top-tier ads, and hopefully help our Head of Partnerships, Colin, stay on top of his dentist appointments (IYKYK). Job description right here—spread the good word.

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

Were These Media Takes Microwaved?

Because they’re sort of hot (please, bear with me, it’s been a long week).

I sent my first newsletter way back in 2017, when I was fresh out of college and both eager and short-sighted enough to say yes to an assignment from my editor to revamp a dormant column called “The Dumbest Thing on Wall Street.” Please, do not Google that.

In the 6ish years since then, I’ve published what I think to be about 1,258 newsletters (rough estimation) as a writer, editor, and most recently unironic girlboss. These days, we’re hitting send on 14 newsletters/week at Smooth. So to quote that Farmers Insurance commercial that for reasons unknown to yours truly plays on a loop in my head, we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.

So: I present five hot or hot-adjacent takes that we’ve come to know as gospel truth over the years here at Smooth Media.

  1. If you’re relying on send time to get people to open your newsletter, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve heard it all: The morning is the best time to send a newsletter because people are less distracted. The morning is the worst time to send a newsletter because you’re hitting inboxes at the same time as everyone else. The truth? Everyone promises that send time is a precise science, but really it’s arbitrary in most cases (exception might be anything breaking news). If the time you hit send is your salvation, you’re not long for this media world, brother. What should you “optimize” (icky word) for instead? The actual content. The content is what creates sticky, engaged behavior above all else.

  2. A/B testing feels more important than it actually is for most creators. Don’t get me wrong, we A/B test subject lines in emails plenty and yes, it does make me feel like a mad scientist. But without an audience north of about 15K readers, that A/B test won’t give you much insight into the preferences of your list. It’s a tool for creators with bigger audiences—smaller creators (or shall we say more specific creators—there are no small parts, only small actors) are better off picking a subject line vibe, sticking with it, and focusing on…you guessed it, the content inside the newsletter. Side note: YouTube is rolling out A/B testing, and the impact of that paired with the big bad algorithm could shake out differently.

  3. YouTube face is silly, but thumbnails aren’t. Full disclosure, Josh and I bickered about this one. My thinking: Thumbnails are the subject lines of video content—making the MrBeast face (hands on cheeks, mouth gaping, eyes bereft of thought) is a gimmick that’s wayyy overused. Josh’s thinking: But that works. Our combined thinking after some gentle disagreement: Thumbnails do matter, and we know this to be true because anyone with eyeballs and a screen can tell you when a thumbnail is subpar—it trips the content at the starting line.

  4. Launching a media company without exposure to an algorithm is like waiting for rain in this drought: useless and disappointing (real ones got the reference). Here at Smooth, we believe ardently in owning the relationship with your audience via email—you’re less impacted by the whims of unreliable Big Tech leaders, and that’s an insurance policy worth having. But? Equally as important as owning the relationship with your audience is building an audience in the first place. And TikTok, YouTube, or another algorithmic feed is the place to do that at scale.

  5. The referral programs that built this iteration of new media have seen their best days. We say this with all the love in our hearts—after all, a huge element of Morning Brew’s success was its referral program. But incentivizing your audience with, say, a sticker, might not be incentivizing them at all. Referral programs require sought-after rewards that have power. For the Publish Press, it’s a hat that people actually want to wear. For other newsletters, it’s premium gated content. No matter what, though, deciding on the reward requires effort, creativity, and willingness to listen to your audience.

Disagree with me? Slide into the DMs. I was the captain of my high school mock trial team and I love a healthy debate.

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

It is my pleasure to share this photo of Smooth Ops Associate Ali Ben-Levi’s literal, actual to-do list from Monday. Nothing but room for imagination there.

Hand for size reference

Thank you for reading! OK, fine. I’ll save you the Google search. I’m nothing if not consistent.