“No one likes to be sold to”
This is a fundamental truth that sits right at the heart of Deborah Corn’s world. And it has made her a global tour de force in the traditionally quiet world of print. Straight-talking Deborah, who describes herself as ‘The Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse’, is the energy and passion behind Print Media Centr and is shaking up the print world through her mission to inspire and educate companies and media agencies on the positive power of print.
But how does one come to be such a big voice in a traditionally subdued industry? Accidentally, apparently. “To tell you the truth, it wasn’t anything that I set out to do. I had lost a job in advertising [as a print producer] and I opened a LinkedIn group in 2008 to network and find a job.” What she found instead was a world of people who joined her group as a way to connect with others who might have the answers to their print-related questions. “It was really interesting to me that the sellers weren’t listening to the buyers at all and the buyers were really far behind the sellers in their information,” she explains. “So, I became this person who had access to that information. I started being able to actually help grow and strengthen the community through my LinkedIn group, which is the number one [print-related] group in the world now. It has over 95,000 people in it.”
Thank god we’re all past that ‘is print dead?’ thing because I won’t entertain that conversation with people
95,000 people in a LinkedIn group, talking about print? Sounds unlikely, right? But Deborah had stumbled upon a gulf that was crippling both creativity and the print industry – knowledge. “The end-users didn’t know anything about the advancements in print because they won’t talk to printers anymore.” When print media was the only option for marketers, the relationship between designers, agencies and their printer was crucial. Not just to make the most of their money, but to stay ahead of their competitors creatively. It was quite normal for creatives and their printers to work together to produce exciting, different and challenging solutions for advertising campaigns. What the printer knew about techniques, substrates and finishing, combined with the mind of a boundary-pushing designer, was a recipe for winning innovations in advertising.
However, the internet didn’t just change consumer shopping habits, it redefined the way that businesses connected with their suppliers. It became harder for salespeople to get their foot in the door – so when they did, they went for it and instead of working in partnership with the client, there was a tendency to try and put everything they have in front of them all at once. “All they want to do is sell stuff – and irrelevant stuff,” says Deborah. “I’d say, ‘I’ve just listened to you for twenty minutes and I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve used 25 acronyms, I don’t know what they mean. Stop telling me how the press works, show me what it does!’” She could see that without some intervention, this was going to “kill businesses”.
In addressing this, her LinkedIn and wider online community operate “like a B2B focus group in a lot of ways”. The discussion points let Deborah identify the trends and topics that members are excited about, which she then responds to by creating the sort of content her members care about – whether that be at events, on YouTube, or via her regular ‘Podcasts from the Printerverse’, where she regularly discusses the latest news in print with industry figures and manufacturers. “People are now open to new ideas and getting to watch the evolution is great.”
This led to the development of what Deborah describes as ‘micro communities’ and other initiatives in and around the print world, such as ‘Girls Who Print’ (“Some people are very offended that I use the word ‘girls’, but me and my 6000 global members are doing fine.”) and a weekly Twitter #printchat that brings the community together. She even invented International Print Day, now recognised by the United Nations. But, ironically, the real stand-out work lies in the face-to-face relationships she builds with the print community and print end-users.
“The truth of the matter is that I work seven days a week, that’s the way it is.” Deborah is as pragmatic about the work she does as she is invested in it. She openly talks about her responsibility to the community and cheerfully reels off her successes with pride. “No one is really invested in community like I am. It’s my job. I declared myself the Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse, meaning that it was my job to be an ambassador, a liaison. I didn’t declare myself the Intergalactic Ruler or Empress.
When I get to speak at the events it’s really important to me because if I even just get three of the audience to change the way that they approach their sales relationship with customers, it makes me happy. I was a print customer, so I’m just trying to help them.”
One of the events Deborah speaks of is part of her latest passion, Project Peacock, that sees her travel around the world, taking the print industry to the people. It is a roadshow that took place initially in the conference rooms of agencies, brands and corporations, essentially delivering a ‘show and tell’ of what's happening in print – developments, new technologies, innovations and more. The next stage was to turn Project Peacock into a full-scale print fair, the first of which was held in New York City.“We had 283 brands and creatives register, 200 showed up. I can’t even tell you how monumental that is. I spend a lot of time on Project Peacock, but it’s to the benefit of the industry. And the results are in and every place we’ve visited we’ve driven digital print dollars.”
But the real beauty of Print Media Centr is that it’s providing a safe middle ground where people can get real answers to their questions, and content free from sales pitches. There’s a sense of trust that comes from a peer-to-peer environment and Deborah’s a truly independent voice. “I think people pay attention to me because I don’t sell anything, and I am completely agnostic when it comes to sharing information. The only qualifier is relevance, and some value to the bigger picture which, to me, is how we all move forward together.”
Canon will be joining Deborah at the next Project Peacock Print Fair on 27th June in Dallas, Texas, where visitors are guaranteed a world of ‘PRINTSPIRATION’ and possibilities. If Dallas is too far afield, in 2020, she will be taking her Printerverse to Europe’s leading printing technology trade fair, drupa for eleven days and broadcasting her sessions worldwide.
You can also listen to Deborah talking to Canon’s Cathy Bittner about graphic arts and the role of the ProStream in their podcast from Hunkeler InnovationsDays 2019.