The Community Spotlight—a monthly blog series highlighting some of the amazing members of the email community—is back for 2024!
Every month, we interview, highlight, and celebrate the splendid members of the email community. We dig into where they got their start, where they are now, and explore their challenges and passions in email.
This month, we’re chatting with Najmah Salam—designer, copywriter, strategist, and former teenage graffiti artist.
What did the beginning of your time in email marketing look like?
Like many other email specialists, I fell in love with email marketing completely by accident. My meet-cute with email happened in my first role in the UK as a marketing assistant for an online personalized gifts company, and one of my many tasks was to create emails every week.
It wasn’t long before I was head over heels when I could see the impact I was making on revenue with the power of email and became a full-fledged email geek!
How did you first connect with the wider email geeks community?
My first reaction to learning anything new is to head to the library, or nowadays, do my research online. I know I wanted to get better at email and had the good fortune to stumble upon the Women of Email community on Facebook and the Email Geeks Slack community. Through simply being in those communities, I learned a lot and eventually plucked up the courage to start getting involved!
How would you describe what you found in the email geeks community and what keeps you connected to it?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the email geeks community is the best professional community out there! Everyone is willing to share their knowledge or peer-review things you’re working on. Plus the memes are top-notch. I think what keeps me connected. Even though I’m not a pure email specialist anymore, there’s always a feed of the most updated information around email and adjacent disciplines. It also has the most generous and talented people around.
You’re well-known in the email community for several things, but let’s start with the stickers—when did you start making email geek stickers and graphics? What prompted that?
I’ve been a designer and artist longer than I’ve been a marketer. In fact, I think I’ve been scribbling on every surface I could get my hands on ever since I can remember. I used to be part of a graffiti crew in my teen years, and a big part of the culture is making sticker art.
I remember thinking about the funny phrases I’d often come across in my career and thought it’d be great if they were stickers and tried out making my own designs—I guess the rest is history!
You’ve run your own consultancy business as well as worked for some notable companies in our industry. How would you compare those experiences?
Working as a specialist for companies gave me a solid grounding not just in email marketing, but in all of the other skills required to work successfully with other people. Being part of a larger organization teaches you to be a good team player and communicator and is great for setting up structures. However, working as a consultant can be incredibly freeing—I think I became a consultant at the right time in my life. I think if I’d started working for myself earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have built up the good habits that serve me well today.
Your skills and consultancy service run the gamut from design to copywriting and public speaking. What are the aspects of each of those that you find satisfying?
Design is incredibly important to me—design as intentional creation is a huge part of marketing and to be able to make use of design thinking is something that should be essential for any marketer. I love the process of taking information from a brief and turning it into something tangible.
In a similar vein, copywriting is design with words. I’ve always loved writing but there’s something so immensely satisfying about distilling a potent idea with economic use of words.
Finally, I always introduce myself as a weirdo that actually likes public speaking—I’ve always been a bit of a goof, and I try and find opportunities to bring a fun energy to what I’m presenting. Being a people-person, it’s a great opportunity to connect with people too!
Tell us about the title, “Marketing Alchemist”—what made you choose that term to describe yourself? How would you define it?
When I was thinking about what term described me best, simply calling myself a designer or content creator or marketer didn’t seem quite right. I do a lot of things, and enjoy them in equal measure.
For me, marketing is like alchemy. Marketing, unlike design where you can bring something into existence, is dependent on having something to market. I call myself a Marketing Alchemist because I believe what I do is best is bringing together existing elements using the entire breadth of my skillset and turning it into gold.
How do your intersecting identities shape the way you approach your career?
I love the saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.”
My intersecting identities mean that I have a set of interesting and varied tools to approach any problem, whether it’s as a designer, or writer, or marketer. I’m able to make a holistic decision on whether a piece of content works best in one format or another. It also enables me to zoom out and think about the problems I’m solving in a holistic way.
This has served me really well in my career as I’ve often worked in small companies and had to wear multiple hats.
What would be the first steps you’d offer someone who wants to take the plunge into consulting work?
Reflect on what your strengths and weaknesses are, and most importantly figure out who you want to help. Then, think about how you’re going to communicate these things in a simple way to your target audience.
Once you’ve clarified these things, you’ve already ticked off a pretty difficult step in your journey!
Which songs hype you up, and which songs chill you out?
I have a pretty eclectic music taste but I’m a big sucker for 90’s hits to hype me up and get me in a good mood, like the Spice Girls! I even made a cover of “Say You’ll Be There” because it never fails to make me smile.
I’m also a big ol’ nerd so to chill out, I’m often listening to gaming and film soundtracks, especially to focus while I’m working. The Skyrim soundtrack is one I go back to time and again.
I also love creating Spotify playlists with really specific titles like “I’m a vice cop in the 70’s” and “👙Floating in a pool contemplating existential questions.”
When you need renewal, what sort of activities have you found that help?
I’m lucky to be living in Salisbury in the UK which is very picturesque, so just leaving the house to go for a walk in the surrounding plains is a pretty vital part of my week and creative process!
Music is a big part of my life, so taking an hour or two to noodle on my instruments and try out some new songs can be refreshing.
And as you might suspect, making art is what I love so I’m often sketching away on my iPad or a sketchbook when I need a break.
Learn from (and connect with) Najmah
Would you like to know more about Najmah’s work? Visit her at NajmahSalam.com