The true cost of success

Who is media’s next it girl?

Hi, everyone! I was going to share a really stunning acoustic remake of the trailer for The Social Network (my all-time favorite comfort film) that I found on TikTok up here today, but I’ve decided to save it for next week.

Because Smooth’s founding team is 50% Floridian and I know my Dad reads every word of these newsletters, I’m starting with something more important: We hope all of our family and friends in Florida stay safe. Hurricane Idalia is, to borrow my dad’s great word choice in the family group chat this morning, walloping my hometown today. And while I know Idalia isn’t reading Smoothletter (rude), I do hope that all of you reading this will send some positive vibes down south.

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

The Pitfalls of Media Success

The media old guard tucking in the YouTubers tonight <3

What does it take to cultivate a lasting legacy in the year of our lord 2023? We considered that question in last week’s Smoothletter, with Josh deftly navigating a journey through both the history of LVMH and the French countryside to help us arrive at an answer:

Building generational media brands requires functionality, tech savvy, creativity, and consistency.

So what happens when you nail all of the above and enter into that elite echelon of “legacy media?” Our team was talking about it last week, and we found ourselves considering a nuanced reality of that success: Achieving legacy success often comes at the expense of innovation.

Colin, our head of partnerships, shared an interesting POV that sparked this “several people are typing” moment in our Smooth Slack. His take? The bigger you get, the harder it is to innovatively pivot—the big brands just keep rolling with what has worked in the past instead of innovating to figure out what will work in the future. And in a media environment that moves at an alarming speed, innovation and forward thinking are necessities for staying afloat.

It creates this interesting cycle:

  1. Media brand achieves success and soon becomes a lumbering legacy that can’t keep hip to the times.

  2. The people who helped said media brand become a success leave to start something new and more culturally relevant.

  3. Those new media brands they start are labeled as innovative. And the few of them that scale into sustainable businesses become at risk of, for lack of a better phrase, becoming their parents.

The punishment of success? You (we’re talking about media brands here, but take this however you please) enjoy the privilege of getting older. But getting older often means digging your heels into the sand. And hiring stuffier execs who only know the traditional way of doing business and lack a perception for what’s actually shaping culture. And generally losing the it girl factor that got you attention in the first place—and we’re not just talking about smart formats or good branding, but rather singular talent and an appetite for (measured) risk.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen this pattern materialize time and again. Take Vox Media as an example:

  • Vox came to prominence with its innovative “explanatory journalism,” earning bragging rights as Inc.’s Company of the Year in 2016 (were we ever so young).

  • Now, though Vox is relatively successful compared to its peers who fell victim to the pivot to video or some other colossally nearsighted media trend, the company has lost its edge. It does multimedia, but the approach feels stale and stagnant.

  • The talent who defined explanatory journalism as Vox’s “thing” broke off as solo creators in pursuit of more innovative experiences and, most likely, better pay. Ex-Voxers Cleo Abram and Johnny Harris are some of the most successful journalists-turned-creators to date, and their work really is innovative.

So what will come of Cleo’s and Johnny’s budding media companies as we enter into the next phase of the aforementioned cycle? How do they or anyone else building a new media brand engineer a culture of innovation while simultaneously pursuing staying power?

Hard to know for sure, but our team thinks a lot of it has to do with 1) hiring people you trust to give you honest feedback and bring you creative ideas and 2) listening to those people once they’re on the payroll. It’s about more than just buying the competition—with the right team, it might just be possible to break the cycle of media dinosaurs.

  • Karlie Kloss is reportedly in talks to buy i-D Magazine from Vice. Looking camp right in the eye. (If you didn’t get that reference, congratulations on not being chronically online.)

  • Former UTA agent Jed Baker is launching Starglow Media, an audio network focused on kids’ and family content.

  • The Mount Rushmore of late night (Colbert, Oliver, Kimmel, Fallon, and Meyers) are launching a Spotify podcast, the proceeds of which will go to out-of-work staff during the writers’ strike.

  • Big news for newsletter people: TechCrunch has acquired StrictlyVC, whose founder Connie Loizos will become TechCrunch’s editor-in-chief and general manager.

  • Complex Founder Rich Antoniello explains why companies that can aggregate “incredibly verticalized passionate audiences” are the next big winners in media.

#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.

No words, just “dilated eyes.”

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend and remember to seize the means of production eat a hot dog and celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers!