Brian McKenna: Spotlight on the expert

Brian talks about why less is definitely more when it comes to email marketing and his long involvement with Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Spotlight shining on woman holding laptop
Brian McKenna

Brian McKenna is the VP of CRM at DMi Partners, a Philadelphia-based marketing agency. As you’ll see, he kind of stumbled into a job and career he loves. In addition to being an email marketing savant, Brian has long been involved with The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Founded by Paul Newman, the organization runs a residential summer camp, and year-round center serving children and their families coping with chronic illnesses such as cancer. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)

Q: How did you get into marketing?

A: I guess my path is probably a little unique in the sense that my brother who’s three years older than me started the company with his college roommate. So, I spent a couple years delaying growing up after college. And then when it came time to find a real job, he had an immediate need and I came here and started and haven’t left since.

Q: What do you like about it?

A: There are two elements of the work that I really enjoy. It’s like each day is kind of a puzzle. I’ve been in many different roles here at DMi. Started out in search engine optimization, spent some time marketing specifically in the education space and now today on the CRM side. Each one of those is a different challenge and each client is unique. The piece that has always interested me is solving a unique problem, and being creative about it.

And then the biggest thing for me today is we have such an impressive and fun team to work with. None of our work can be accomplished by any specific team member, so getting to work across a team of people with different experiences, and different expertise is fun for me, too. 

Q: Google and Yahoo! have set much tougher rules for bulk email senders, what has that meant for you?

A: From our end, it’s been validating a lot of our approach. At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is read and react based on our client’s subscribers’ engagement. You know, what is the right message to be getting to this person based on where they’re at and any recent steps they’ve taken? If anything, we’re constantly trying to get our clients to send less to people less frequently, which is not how this normally goes.

On any individual send, sending to the most people is always going to be the clients’ approach. So really, our job is to not only put a strategy together but do it in a way that we can prove it out. Saying, “Yes, we’re taking a slight step back here but we’re going to monitor these metrics. And then in a month from now, you’ll see you’ve got more people in that seriously engaged bucket.” That means you’re also seeing fewer people unsubscribing.

What we always remind ourselves internally and tell our clients is that sending the wrong email to the wrong person is way more impactful than sending a lot of people the right email.


Q: One thing that stood out to me about you is all the work you’ve done with The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp. How did you first get involved? 

A: You’ll see a trend here. My brother worked there in the summers in college. They have full summer staff, and people who are there just for a week or two. And when I got to college I went up for a week, spent it in his cabin, and then got hooked. All I could think was, “How can I get back up here?” I went back up for a couple more weeks that summer and then for all the summers when I was in college and just after.

Q: What impact did being around these kids have on you? 

A: The experience is hard to describe. One of the things that Paul Newman said when creating the camp was about luck and the positive impact it had on his life and the devastating impact it could have on kids who might not have a long life to correct it.

There’s something about spending time with these amazing people. That’s the kids, of course, but it’s also the people there working with the kids. Giving them the chance to be silly and goofy and a kid again while also dealing with some pretty heavy stuff.

So much of the experience is on that goofy side. But that enables the rest of the experience to happen, I guess. It really keeps everything in perspective. I have two little ones of my own. They’re nine and six. So I can’t use my PTO to go up to camp right now. But I’m looking forward to the time when they’re older, and I can start doing that again. 

Actually, there are a couple of people at DMi who volunteer there. It sinks its teeth in you. It’s an amazing group of people and an amazing experience to have gone and participated in. I would jump at any chance I can to be involved with it.


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About the author



Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.