Since launching Lenny Letter in 2015, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner have grown their twice-weekly email newsletter into a formidable media property, with 500,000 subscribers and an almost 50% open rate, celebrity interviews and essays, controversial articles, a move from Hearst to Condé Nast, and as of this month, branded content.
In September, Cole Haan launched its “Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Stories” campaign, featuring Karlie Kloss and Christy Turlington Burns delving into the causes they support and why. At the time, the brand’s CMO David Maddocks told me he was looking for a more substantive way to have a dialogue with his customers, and a content partnership with Lenny Letter was part of that strategy. This month, Lenny Letter featured Cole Haan content, such as a Konner Q&A with Kloss and Turlington.
Konner and Dunham say the partnership came about through the agency Giant Spoon, which helped put Lenny Letter and General Electric in a similar partnership last year. “Because the newsletter is such an intimate and contained experience, we have limited advertising space to sell and we don’t want the advertising to overwhelm our reader experience,” Dunham and Konner say in an email. “So we try to choose our partnerships carefully and work with those brands exclusively over longer periods of time. It’s better for them, for our small business, and most importantly for our readers.”
The most important factor in these brand relationships is trust. “We think that Lenny has a very special mission,” Dunham and Konner say. “We aren’t an ‘all things to all people’ publication. So when a brand comes to us wanting to speak to our readers, they have to trust that we know how and what will resonate with the people we speak to weekly. Similarly, we have to trust our partner’s commitment to that mission.”
In terms of the creative process, Lenny’s editors and writers develop ideas around a brand brief. “Our editors can always find a ‘Lenny take’ on any creative brief. The less ‘shaping’ any piece of content has by us or the brand generally leads to a better piece of writing,” Dunham and Konner say. “We work with the brands in the way it’s framed in the newsletter so that it’s ultimately most effective as a piece of advertising. Which obviously has to work as well.”
The key to these partnerships, in making sure both the brand and Lenny’s readers are happy, is to make content that people are actually happy to read. “Our readers understand that Lenny isn’t a charity but a business,” say Dunham and Konner. “We don’t waste their time with fluff or lengthy pictorials of product. There’s a place for that obviously, but it just doesn’t work well in a newsletter format and we’d have to find the authentic ‘Lenny’ way.”