June 16, 2015

New Style of Partnership Brings New Set of Problems.

skimm blogTheSkimm,” a free email newsletter skimming three to five top stories in the world geared toward female millennials, recently announced it would start pairing up with other companies to bring in advertising revenue. It will do this through strategic “partnerships” rather than typical ads. Approaching its third anniversary, theSkimm has grown exponentially in popularity and recently completed a fundraising push bringing in $6.25 million in capital from backers like RRE Ventures (Buzzfeed) and Chelsea Handler. While its main focus has been growing its readership, now at 1.5 million readers daily, founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg decided it was time to make theSkimm profitable.

They decided to kick off their first partnership with Chase, a smaller division of national bank JPMorgan Chase. The partnership began on May 18 and featured the “Skimm girl” decked out with the Chase logo. Toward the bottom was the regular headline “Thing to Know” with the additional line “brought to you by Chase,” featuring the term “credit score” with an explanation.skimmblog2

May 19 and 20 went similarly. The Skimm girl appeared travel-ready with suitcase and Chase credit card in hand in front of a few airplanes and again with a group of friends drinking wine at the dinner table. The Things to Know included “soft inquiry” and “credit utilization.”

May 21, Chase was featured again, but not as originally planned. One of the top stories of the day was how five global major banks deliberately manipulated exchange rates and were now facing criminal charges. One of these banks happened to be JPMorgan Chase. Interestingly enough, the Skimm girl was flying solo at the top and the Thing to Know was unrelated to financial literacy.

May 22. No word of Chase and the partnership. Memorial Day weekend goes by.

May 26 and May 27. Chase is back in the lineup of partnerships. We can conclude the original sponsorship plan was most likely meant to span a week, or five weekdays. While they took the Chase name and logo from the newsletter only on the day the exchange rate story broke as well as the following day, it did not go unnoticed—at least not by critical readers like me.

This showed a few things. For one, their “partnership” wasn’t as foolproof as they had hoped. This kind of advertising is seen as more personal—like a direct endorsement. So if the company you’re endorsing is in need of serious crisis management, the last thing you want is for your names to be tied together.

It also shows theSkimm should put a little more thought into whom they want to have these partnerships with. One-and-a-half million readers is a huge audience, especially with a 45% open rate (high above the industry average). Banks aren’t known to be the most ethical organizations, and this isn’t the first scandal in Chase’s history. So as far as test runs go, this one failed pretty badly.

As a side note, I have to give theSkimm some credit. Instead of skipping the story and possibly compromising their integrity of delivering the news, they published the story and faced whatever criticism they might receive. This proves where their loyalties lie—to the readers. They’re committed to providing readers with the news as honestly as they can— which is the most basic imperative of a news organization.

I leave you with this: Be careful whom you choose to have your own “partnerships” with. Do your research: Have they been in the news for not-so-honorable activity? Find companies that share your values and goals. Their reputation is your reputation—so choose your partners wisely.