Growing up with a mother, who is a writing teacher, and a father, who is a chemical engineer, Lauren Swanson, Wittenberg class of 2015, was destined to obtain a career that married her creative and analytical sides.
“I grew up in a household where both industries were encouraged with the same intensity,” explained Swanson from Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “ In fact, I flip-flopped between wanting to be an astronaut and a fashion designer. For a time, I wanted to be an environmental science major that designed environmentally sustainable clothing to address the fast fashion epidemic that is incredibly unethical for workers and destroying our planet.”
Currently residing on the upper east side of New York City, Swanson, who double majored in English and dance and minored in journalism, enjoyed a career in the magazine business before recently making the switch to serve as the executive editorial director of commerce for Merriam-Webster.
“It’s still a new position, so I don’t have much to say about the company or role yet, but I’m excited for the challenge,” said Swanson, who was involved in the Wittenberg Student Dance Company, Alpha Delta Pi, Sage, and was the design editor for The Torch during her time at Wittenberg. Before taking the position at Merriam-Webster, Swanson was a member of the commerce team at Condé Nast for more than four years where she worked as the commerce editor for Allure before joining Glamour, Teen Vogue, and Self – all under the Condé Nast umbrella.
“Commerce is a really interesting and emerging sector of service journalism where editors and writers test and write digital reviews of products,” Swanson said. “When a reader makes a purchase, the company makes a small commission off of that purchase. There are many influencers that work with affiliate links, but more publishers are getting into the business to learn more about their readers and consumers. The position is a perfect dichotomy of creative and analytical skills. I work a lot with data and creating narratives about our readers through the purchase data.
“My roles have absolutely been an interesting blend of many skills. I have to think critically about the content that I’m creating pre- and post-production; everything is intentional and thoughtfully crafted. I hired a lot of the editors and writers on the commerce team at Condé Nast, and I always told them that they don’t have to be fluent in analytics, but that they need to be able to speak the language a little. I looked for individuals who are a jack-of-all-trades and think holistically about the content they’re creating. For example, it’s important to me that someone doesn’t just pitch a story idea and then write it. I need someone who follows trends, researches SEO keywords, thinks about the distribution strategy of a story (newsletter, social media, etc.), can interpret the purchasing data, and then ultimately tell me a little bit more about our reader from what they’ve learned. My liberal arts experience absolutely falls in line with that ‘jack-of-all-trades’ mentality. My intro to psychology and philosophy classes didn’t count toward my major, but have truly made me a more well-rounded editor.”
After graduating from Wittenberg, Swanson interned for Cleveland Magazine during the day and waitressed at a diner during the evening. She moved to New York City in 2016 with a paid editorial internship at a digital-only site and then was hired by a social media start-up.
“After being at the start-up for a year, I was looking for new opportunities and networked a lot,” she said. “The position at Condé Nast was a new one for a brand-new team. In fact, I was hired before my manager was hired. I truly felt like I lucked out, but I had the bootstrapped background and self-starter mentality that they were looking for. I moved my way up in the company by working hard and being passionate about developing my professional skills, along with my journalism skills. I actually did expect this type of career, or at least hoped that someday I would be doing something similar. I think the important thing for me was that I didn’t know a role like this existed, which happens a lot in media. Companies get investments for new teams and initiatives as new platforms launch all the time. In five years, I could be doing something completely different for something that hasn’t even launched or doesn’t exist yet.”
Swanson appreciates her liberal arts education and is thankful for the entire Wittenberg English department.
“They were all great professors,” she said. “I also have such a soft spot in my heart for Shih-Ming Li Chang from the dance department. I do still dance. I joined Danceworks NYC last year and was set to perform for their fall show, but it obviously was canceled because of COVID. The personal connection that I was able to have with talented educators was incredible. I was welcomed into Dr. Cynthia Richards’ home for class. Dr. D’Arcy Fallon stayed up late hours with me working on The Torch, as well as putting up with my antics at journalism conferences. I think about Dr. Robin Inboden every time I watch a good movie and see Hitchcock-esque directing. Even though I don’t keep in touch with them as much as I should, I honestly try to make them and the rest of the English department proud.
“Also, my friends. I am so thankful to Wittenberg and Alpha Delta Pi for connecting me with my absolute favorite people on the face of this planet,” Swanson added. “Even though we all live in different states, we all try to meet up at least once a year in a ‘bucket list’ place. They made my entire Wittenberg experience so much fun, and we still laugh about all the shenanigans we got ourselves into.”
Swanson’s advice to Wittenberg students is: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in jobs or at companies that you admire. Everyone thinks the media industry is massive, but it’s quite small. When I was initially breaking into the workforce, I reached out to people on LinkedIn who connected me to people that they knew, and so on and so forth. I also treated every experience and internship as if it were a teaching experience. Even if I had a negative experience, at least I had a really good answer for the interview question - describe how you overcame a difficult situation at work.”