By Aviva Luttrell '15
When Elisa Thomas ’95 (journalism/political science) joined the Estée Lauder Companies 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 says, “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. “It’s my responsibility to identify trends that are happening in the business and then relay them to our company. I act as sort of an internal think tank/librarian,” Thomas says. 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 says, “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 says. “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 says.
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 says. After graduating from UMass, Thomas received her master’s degree in visual media from Emerson College. “There are so many ethical decisions that have come [to the forefront] with the rise of social media,” Thomas says. “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?”
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. Thomas says 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 says. “I wanted that spirit to come through within the department.”
Aviva Luttrell '15 is a double major in communication and journalism. Elisa Thomas will be on campus November 6 for the SBS Alumni/Student Networking Event.