MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Lauren Skena, E-Marketing Manager of the National Geographic Society

Participation in the eec’s Roundtables makes you smarter, better connected, and more in-the-know, beautiful and recognized in the industry. But who’s got time for that when we can barely get through the week? Who are these people who seem to be able to find time in their own hectic schedules to move the industry forward? This week in the Spotlight is one of them—Lauren Skena, co-chair of the Research & Intelligence Roundtable.

If you are like most people, you can’t bear to recycle or throw away those National Geographic magazines—there is something faintly unpatriotic and painful about parting with the iconic yellow-bordered covers. Of course, keeping the magazine in a corner of the cupboard is not the same as reading it and acting on the articles. Behind that citron-hued brand is an active Society that wants to involve you in nature, community and world preservation.

Lauren Skena, E-Marketing Manager of the National Geographic SocietyGiven the ability of email marketing to connect and engage with subscribers, it’s no surprise that email has become a primary method of communication for the National Geographic Society. Lauren Skena, manager of e-marketing, runs the email program from the D.C. office and despite the strong brand and reluctance of many readers to part with their stacks of printed magazines, she faces the same issues we all do when it comes to creating email relevance, governing frequency, going multichannel, optimizing deliverability and battling for mindshare in the inbox.

Lauren says she acts as a gatekeeper between subscribers and the 25+ divisions of the Society that use email as a form of communication. “It’s like an in-house agency,” she says, “where the multichannel direct marketing is handled for all the National Geographic departments from TV, film, online, catalog and the magazine and website editorial groups to special projects like our current Genographic project.”

National Geographic logoThere is a lot for email to do. While the mission of the Society is to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical and natural resources, the Society also wants to sell subscriptions, films, educational guides, maps and travel adventures.

“I often have to be the one to say, ‘No, you can’t have that date for an email campaign,'” she says in regards to keeping a central email marketing schedule for the society. “All of the divisions and the philosophy of the Society center on protection and respect of our members and subscribers so most of the groups understand the need for frequency caps, respecting permission grants from other divisions to essentially ‘borrow’ their names and limits on the types of messages that drive ISP complaints.

“It’s all one brand, but email in particular creates opportunity for the divisions to work together. We do a lot of cross promotion in newsletters,” Lauren says. “We don’t allow use of another division’s permission group, but, for example, we encourage the Travel group to include Adventure Magazine messages, etc. Email and the database are a strategic asset for upselling and creating memorable customer experiences overall.”

Leading one of the DMA’s Email Experience Council’s roundtables was a natural fit for Lauren, as the DMA brought her to the National Geographic Society in the first place! Prior to her current job, Lauren worked for the DMA, marketing events to members. At a DMA conference, she met the Society team and agreed to join just as email marketing began to be a focus area in the direct marketing group.

“I’ve always been a fan of National Geographic and, personally speaking, The DMA was supportive of my joining such a good member and great organization,” she says of the transition. “It’s natural for me to want to come back and participate, as I know firsthand the good work the DMA does in the community.”

“The Society supports my involvement 100%—I always hear support and ideas,” she says. “My director and vice president always encourage involvement within the community, including active participation in applicable groups, speaking opportunities and networking events.”

Lauren chose the Research & Intelligence Roundtable because she knows how much research can be helpful to members, and frankly, saw some holes in the current benchmarking and available research that she hoped to fill. She wants to know what consumers are thinking and feeling about email—and to turn that information into actionable insight that email marketers can use today.

“I’d also like to publish benchmarks using the membership as an industry panel. I see a quarterly report that addresses problems that email marketers are trying to solve and identifies what is missing in the available data stream,” she says. “Ultimately, I’d like this Roundtable to help make the DMA research and Annual Report more relevant to the email marketing community.”

The R&I Roundtable has some major goals that are achievable and aspirational, but Lauren and her co-chair, Todd Purcell of American Express, want to create opportunities for members to do both small as well as larger involvements. Lauren plans to split the Roundtable into small working committees of two or three people, so that the work is manageable.

“There is so much that we could do, and it can get overwhelming,” she says. “It was hard to put the mission together! But separating out the projects will help us achieve more and allow each member to have a rewarding experience.”

“There is room and opportunity for all types of members,” she says. “For example, my co-chair, Todd, brings a wealth of business experience as a user of research, and our companies are so vastly different it allows our two perspectives to balance and expand on each other.”

Lauren also takes full advantage of the eec affiliation, speaking on a panel at the DMA’s Email Summit this past May and serving on the Advisory Committee for the February event. The newly merged eec is in a powerful position, she says. “It’s good to have everyone together, and to have one larger group that is working on one set of initiatives, rather than two groups working on similar initiatives. Frankly, the DMA has to be more involved in the online space and this is a great way to push that forward.”

Lauren’s advice to all of us is to get involved. “Get involved and see what is available,” she says. “The networking possibilities alone make it worth being active in a Roundtable. You’ll meet people who may be able to help you along the way. Plus, you get referrals, vendor reviews, all the whitepapers and research.”

“Show this to your boss and offer to be involved,” she says. “You just can’t get this sort of career and program value with a passive membership.”