By Aviva Luttrell
When Elisa Thomas, class of ’95, joined the Estée Lauder Company three years ago, her job was to figure out the best way to teach digital marketing to employees working everywhere from New York to Paris to Tokyo.
“I have a very entrepreneurial spirit,” Thomas said, “and I loved that there was nothing in place and I would have the opportunity to build it.”
As the company’s first Global Director of Digital Education, Thomas began determining what her colleagues were interested in learning about and what would best support the company’s goals.
Today, the instructional program she developed takes her around the world, where she teaches some of Estée Lauder’s more than 40,000 employees how to market through social media and identify digital trends.
“It’s my responsibility to identify trends that are happening in the business and then relay those trends to our company. I act as sort of an internal think tank/librarian,” Thomas said.
This involves figuring out whether people are shopping on their mobile phones, what activities they’re involved in on social networks and where they’re spending their time online.
“If you know how consumers are behaving,” she said, “then you can adjust your marketing campaigns to best engage and entice them to buy your products.”
Thomas launched her digital career at Monster Board, now Monster.com, as a copywriter nearly 15 years ago. From there, she moved up the ranks into producing and project management and finally into more creative jobs.
In her job as Global Director of Digital Education, Thomas sometimes meets with executives of social media giants- including Facebook, Google, and Twitter- to discuss trends in the industry and changes coming to their respective platforms.
“I love the idea that you’re at the table with people who are so brilliant and you get to understand the decisions that they’re making. Plus, I get to influence them in the process," she said.
“Now that these platforms are going public it’s even more important for them to have revenue drivers, which means having successful partnerships with brand teams.”
Thomas enjoys the international nature of her job, particularly seeing how user behavior differs across cultures.
“Learning more about that from a global mindset is fascinating to me. It’s really anthropological, and I enjoy that," she said.
Thomas said that her background in journalism has been a huge benefit throughout her career. “I’m a born storyteller, and my job now is basically telling stories," she said. After graduating from UMass with a major in journalism and a dual minor in photography and political science, Thomas went on to get her Master’s degree in visual media from Emerson College.
Since 2011, Thomas has funded the Thomas Family Lecture Series in the Journalism Department that she hopes will help young journalists be successful in the digital age. Speakers have included Janine Warner and Jeff Zimbalist.
“There are so many ethical decisions that have come [to the forefront] with the rise of social media,” Thomas said. “How do we bring journalism into this new age, and how do we educate our students to really understand the new way of the world without losing sight of what’s really important as a journalist?”
Thomas said her gift is also in honor of Professor B.J. Roche. “She’s one of those teachers that respects tradition but also recognizes the need for new thinking and innovation,” Thomas said. “I wanted that spirit to come through within the department.”