2019 Women in Print and Promo: Stephanie Friedman, City Paper Company
Vice President of Sales and Marketing, City Paper Company, Birmingham, Ala.
How she got her start: I actually studied both marketing and advertising in college at UGA (Go Dawgs!), and always knew that I wanted to incorporate sales into my career. I had no idea my career would actually lead me to market advertising for a living, but I am so grateful that it did. I have always had a passion for selling, but, like most people in our industry, promo found me more than I found it. In 2006, a family friend called my dad about an open position in his company, WorkflowOne. I started off as an account executive, selling an array of print products, including check stock, corporate stationery, commercial print and even receipt register thermal rolls. I attended my first ASI Show in Orlando in January 2007, and I was officially hooked. I was able to quickly incorporate promotional products into my portfolio for many of my customers who were already buying from me. I think we have the most exciting, fun, creative and ever-changing industry that is just constantly keeping me on my toes.
What she does: About five years ago, I joined on with my husband Brad Friedman’s family business, City Paper Company, to help grow both the retail packaging side of our business, but also—and most especially—the promotional marketing side of City Paper Company. [In this] fourth-generation, family-owned company that is this year 122 years old, my role includes overseeing the sales, marketing and in-house design teams. I work hand in hand with operations, customer support and our warehousing team on our e-commerce programs. My day-to-day life usually includes assisting on an RFP or quote opportunity, meeting with vendors, going on calls with reps and still today even handling a few promo orders for a couple of our customers. My focus changes day-to-day depending on the needs of our employees and customers, and it is truly exhilarating.
What brings her joy professionally and personally: I have so much pride for the kind of company that we are building. Being a company that is as old as we are has its fair share of challenges. You have to learn and grow with your team, with the times and sometimes against people’s wishes. The joy I have in watching our team and our customers succeed is by far the most rewarding part of every day. Helping our reps get back up after a challenging situation and watching them prevail also brings me a tremendous amount of pride. We are truly a team here and you can feel it in everything we do. There are highs and lows, but I get so much happiness from just navigating those waters with such a remarkable group of people. Also, we get to work with some absolutely amazing customers. They truly are the best of the best.
Her proudest career achievement: It is very tough to pick just one, but if I must, I would say it is the role I have played in where City Paper Company is today. I am beyond proud of the contribution that my team has played in our company’s growth. If I have done anything right, it’s that I have helped hire some of the brightest in our industry. But also, I feel pretty honored to have been asked to participate in this spotlight.
On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: This is definitely a question that I [feel] could be worthy of a novel. There have been times in my career where I experienced the difficulty in having my voice heard and also being taken seriously as a sales expert. These moments were, without a doubt, frustrating, but they only motivated me to work that much harder and to fight for what I believe to be worthy. My most frustrating moment that I recall was trying to address a situation and being told I was aggressive for disagreeing and speaking my mind. I may have been, I may not have been. Either way, the feeling was that I was to suppress my thoughts and deliver in a proper feminine way. The reality for me felt much different. I had a strong belief and was not being heard. Those experiences can be so challenging, but so valuable at the same time. Fortunately, I work for a company today that takes pride in all people sharing their thoughts ... and it does not hurt that we are 90 percent female, either. We promote a culture that is about respect, kindness and consideration, regardless of your gender, your title or anything else.
Her job advice to women: First of all, I think it’s always important to do your research. Learn about different companies that exist out there, both on the supplier and distributor side. Find someone who can give you honest, objective thoughts about the opportunities, challenges and struggles in our industry. Be ready to work your way up. The best of the best in this industry have done it all—from order entry to customer service, kitting a project or PowerPoint decks. The best way to learn is to absorb and dive in, get your hands dirty and just be a sponge.
Who she turns to for career advice: I turn, first and foremost, to both Brad, City Paper Company’s CEO and president, and my dad, [who does not work in the industry]. I have learned so much from each of them about how to overcome different challenges in my career, and they have seen me through moments in my career that were incredibly difficult on both professional and personal levels. They both have been in sales for a long time, as well as having managed teams, and each has a great way of looking at situations with empathy, but also what is best for me, the business or both. I also lean on my sister quite a bit. She really helps me look at situations from different viewpoints and is always an incredible sounding board. I have had many different mentors in our industry throughout my career. I have learned hard lessons about making sure the people I turn to truly have my best interest at heart, so I now keep my circle pretty close for who I turn to for advice. That being said, I am always learning from our employees, suppliers and customers.
Her upcoming goals: I want to make City Paper Company an even more recognizable player in the promotional product space. I hope to continue the growth track that we have been experiencing and help our reps achieve their goals and objectives for this year. Professionally, I would love to get more involved in our industry as a mentor for others, as I think it’s so incredibly valuable to ensuring our industry’s future.
How she maintains a work/life balance: This can be very challenging at times, especially being a family business where a lot of decisions fall on Brad and me. I make it a point to get a workout in every day, as I know how this impacts how I feel going into each day. Brad and I have two beautiful little girls, Emily and Zoe, who are our pride and joy. I make it a point to put my phone away as much as possible to give them my full attention and separate myself every day after work. A little mindless Bravo TV or reading a good book at the end of the day does not hurt, either.