Email Newsletters Done Right: Tips From The Skimm

Sending an email newsletter is an important part of a brand's marketing strategy. Here's a look at one company that's doing it quite well.

Email newsletters are big news lately. In case you’ve missed it:

  • Nearly a year ago Quartz Insights’ Global Executives Summary found that 60 percent of executives read an email newsletter as one of their first three daily news sources.
  • In June 2014 The New York Times reported on “a radical publishing technology that is catching on in news media companies big and small” – which turned out to be email newsletters [Note: As I’m writing this I just got news that David Carr, the NYT Media columnist who wrote this article, has died. RIP; my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. I will miss his articles on the publishing industry, which I grew up in.)
  • In December of last year a start-up called The Skimm, whose only current offering is a daily email newsletter, raised $6.25 million in funding.

So if you’re not currently doing an email newsletter to support your business goals, now’s the time to start. Implementing some best practices will help you be successful – so here’s a quick and dirty review of a recent email newsletter from The Skimm to get you started.

The Skimm is published every day. Every morning, to be exact – it arrives around 6:30 a.m. Eastern, which is before my alarm usually goes off. Which leads me to the first best practice in email newsletter marketing: don’t bite off more than you can chew, with regard to quality.

I always find The Skimm to be a quality publication; but from my work with clients I know what goes into a daily email newsletter. You are, quite literally, always on deadline. You need to have a person or, more likely, a team dedicated to getting it out every day. So if your primary business isn’t publishing, I’d shy away from daily. For my clients I recommend monthly at a minimum; weekly is even better if you have enough content – and staff resources – to pull it off.

That said, the Skimm would be much less valuable if it wasn’t delivered daily – that’s kind of the point of it – and so kudos to them for getting it done. But think about what frequency would best benefit your content – and confirm that you have the staff to make it happen in a quality way at that frequency. If not, pare back.

Here I’ll break down the elements of The Skimm of a recent daily newsletter and share my thoughts.

From and Subject Line


The Skimm uses its brand as its from line – this is a best practice. Note that they don’t use a person’s name here. While this was shown, years ago, to improve open rates there are downsides. You are building equity in whatever from line you use and if that person leaves your organization the equity goes with them. Some people have created pseudonyms that they use in their email from lines to get around this – but I’m not a fan of misleading your audience.

The Skimm changes its subject line with every issue to keep them relevant, which is a best practice. Recently I’ve recognized a number of them to be lyrics or titles of songs. For instance:

This is a good strategy – the subject line is relevant to the content in the email but at the same time it may evoke an emotional response if people recognize it.

Preview Pane Content


The Skimm usually opens with a newsworthy quote (and a link to the source) – and then they say something snarky about it. Which not only sets the stage for the rest of the content, but reminds me of one of my college friends (Misshula, I’m talking about you) who always had a quick, witty response to any situation. Don’t you love friends like that? If so, you’ll love this newsletter.

Can every brand be this snarky? No. But every brand can find something interesting – a quote or something else – to engage readers and pull them in the newsletter.



After the opening quote we get to the real news. While the headlines tend to remain a little bit snarky, the content is sound. They tackle difficult issues in a way that lay people can quickly understand. It’s like when USAToday launched as a way to deliver news to the masses in a “fast-food” format; but here it appears in a more “fast-casual” format.



I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the social element of the Skimm email. They provide readers an easy way to share either the entire newsletter or individual articles via Facebook or Twitter.

But then they go a step further. They actually recognize readers who are having birthdays.


As someone who works with enterprise-sized organizations, my first thought is: is this scalable? I assume not. At some point, when the list gets very large, this will be too long to be included in the newsletter. But until then it’s a great feature.

Until next time,


Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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