Spam Resource Spotlight: Jennifer Nespola Lantz

Jennifer Nespola Lantz currently holds the role of VP of Industry Relations and Deliverability for email verification provider Kickbox. I've gotten to know her well over the past few years and it's been exciting to work alongside her to address industry challenges, brainstorm solutions to complex deliverability problems, and get to know what a great person and sharp deliverability mind she is.

You can find her Linkedin Profile here, or follow her on the Kickbox blog here, and on her delightful "ISKTBN/I Should Know This By Now" blog.

Jen, thanks so much for taking the time to join in the fun that is the Spam Resource interview series! Let's get started by going back to the beginning. Would you mind sharing the story with us of how you came to work in the email sphere initially, and then how that led to the world of deliverability?

Absolutely! As many before me have said, I fell into deliverability like those cartoon characters that fall into an uncovered manhole. You hover a bit and then plummet quickly, not likely to come back out :).

When I went to college, my goal was to become an astrophysicist. (Gosh I must have been smart. Pretty sure my kids have sucked all my intelligence out since then. Anywho...) As I was talking to a counselor about what I could do with a degree, they said I would likely be analyzing a lot of data (on computers). My dream of staring at the night sky with telescopes and doing math was quickly dashed leaving me saying, "well I don't want to sit behind a monitor all day!"

Oh the IRONY!

So I endeavored to find a new job path that would keep me moving. Marketing was suggested because I could travel and talk with people a bit, especially if I was a buyer. I was terribly naive in my youth so I grasped onto the Marketing degree and off I went. And what would you know, I found myself behind a monitor looking at how to plan out-of-home media for a major snack company.

I quickly discovered the salary offered to me (that I was convinced was a LOT of money and coming from a small town, it was) was actually not very much money at all with NYC as the backdrop. And because debt sucks, I started putting my resume out there. I don't remember how I got an interview at Digital Impact, but I did. I was to be an Associate Account Manager, but because I had some HTML background from my time at the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, they took me in to code emails.

From there, I moved into a team lead role, then trained clients and employees on our platform (where I did get to travel around the world), to being a manager of the production team, to the deliverability team. And now, here I am, 20 years after joining Digital Impact, still fascinated with email and deliverability. All I need now is a way to get an outdoor office where I can admire the landscape and watch the birds and I'll be set!

Moving up from deliverability specialist to director of deliverability usually means new responsibilities (and managing people). I did that a lot throughout my career as a deliverability director, but managing people was really never where my passion was. I wanted to get my hands dirty in the technology and the direct client consultation -- helping marketers solve deliverability problems -- instead of having to wrangle a team of consultants. How did you manage the people side of it? Did you enjoy it? What kind of challenges did you face as you grew in that regard?

I actually really enjoyed managing people. I love to help. I love to teach. I'm not great at self-promotion, but I sure was great at promoting my team and making sure they knew they were valued.

I did NOT like the annual/quarterly reviews. I found the corporate methodology of documenting the review monotonous and only helpful when someone needed to go on a performance plan…akin to a CYA strategy. I never found them useful in growing a person. The hands on approach though, where you sit with them to work through a production issue or guide them during a communication issue was where it really helped someone grow and blossom. Experience really is the best teacher. Plus, being able to tell them they are doing a great job at any time versus when you are doing a forced review, was much more rewarding for them and myself. No one should wait to hear they are doing a great job. Tell them as often as you can!

However, being in that kind of role did teach me a lot about how companies work, the politics, the dark side, and the good side. I had one boss who had the entire management team read a couple books to improve our skills. One was "The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey" and the other was "The Speed of Trust." Although at the time I loathed reading work books when I barely had time to get through my work or enjoy personal downtime to read sci-fi books, I did learn a lot of good tips. Some of which I most admired was the messaging to trust your team and as you enable them with trust (and other things) you will gain more efficiency, better quality work, and a better company.

In this day and age, I think about that book often and how it can apply to email marketers and deliverability.

Now in your current role, you're successfully managing (and servicing) a book of consulting business. What do you think has changed the most, for you, in the past dozen plus years since putting on that "deliverability consultant" hat? How has deliverability evolved, for better or worse, from your point of view?

There are some issues that are just plain harder to fix. What worked before isn't today. With filters getting smarter, it's not always as easy to pinpoint where an issue lies and it requires more trust with clients to be patient and trust the many research expeditions you set them on. And even those exploratory adventures are getting more complex with how much data you need to properly review your customer base while knowing data is limited for privacy reasons or flawed due to gaps in campaign reports.

I find the relationships between mailbox receivers and senders is growing. There is an understanding that we are in this together and if we want to make the biggest impact, a one-sided approach isn't as impactful as one that encompasses the messaging from all sides.

I try hard not to ask people to forecast the future of email. Mostly because I'm not very good at myself. But if we extrapolate where things are today and look at recent changes (like Yahoo and Google making authentication and DMARC required), and extrapolate out from there, it's clear that sender requirements will be amended, will evolve, will become more specific. Thinking of things like requiring a "p=reject" DMARC policy instead of just "have a DMARC policy." If you were trying to future proof a brand marketer's email strategy today, what would you tell them about (potential) things to come?

Everything will tighten. DMARC will have a stricter policy. IP reputation may go away so protecting your brand domain is even more crucial. And that isn't just with how you mail, but the protection around who has access to your domain, the mail you send, the data you collect. Protect your logins. Protect your DNS and keep it clean. Use as many security protocols as you can to protect it even more.

But with that, I also see a growing gap in who can execute it and who can understand it. I fear that gap will be what's exploited.

OK, enough of that. Now let's get to the real questions. What do you hate more, cold leads or raisins?

I enjoy raisins! So cold leads. I tell my kids not to boo when we watch sports games, but cold leads are the exception…boo that until the sun goes down!

Alison hates raisins. Skyler is not not okay with tomato catchup. Don't even get me started about mustard soup (because I'm still kind of confused about what that is, but Annalivia mentioned it recently). What is an actual, honest-to-goodness foodstuff that you absolutely refuse to eat, and why?

I enjoy raisins and ketchup. I think my kids are addicted to that red salty sauce so it's always a staple in this house. One of them even enjoys dipping apples in it. To entertain them both my husband and I tried it and we both gagged. So ketchup is good on burgers, fries, hotdogs, in sloppy joes and such. NOT ON APPLES. Thankfully the kids are getting really good at trying food, be it new flavors like those present in Indian food or new textures like you'd find with shrimp or tripe.

For me, I personally loathe anything that tastes of coffee. That includes coffee, tiramisu, espresso, coffee ice cream, and anything even sprinkled with that bitter bean. Also, organ flavors...not a fan. It's hard for me to eat pate even though it's supposed to be a delicacy. I mean hot dogs, they are loaded with things we probably don't want to know about and yet they are more appetizing to me than a limited ingredient dish of liver.

Mmmmm, organ flavors. (Cough.) Last question, promise. We've both faced the challenge that not everybody wants to listen to deliverability advice. Let's say that you could corner any and all aspiring email marketing manager or brand marketer thinking about getting into email marketing, wave a magic wand, and guarantee that whatever advice you give them will be remembered and followed. What would that advice be?

Lili Crowley once said, (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Remember, there is a human on the other end of your email." That always stuck with me. Develop your email program as if you are talking to one person because then you'll take care to make sure every message matters and hopefully you won't waste your time or theirs with meaningless content.

Jen, thanks so much for talking to me today and sharing your thoughts, experiences and expertise! I appreciate you!
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