2021 Women in Print and Promo: Judith B. Friedman, Sonoma Promotional Solutions
JUDITH B. FRIEDMAN
Sonoma Promotional Solutions, Sonoma, Calif.
The true grit of a New Yorker can’t be outdone. Just ask Judith B. Friedman. With a freshly minted English degree, she used her flair for words to churn out snappy ad copy for several major players on Madison Avenue before finding a home in the TV ad spot buying crowd. Back then, the scene wasn’t so inviting, and the narrative tone of female representation was uncannily similar to an episode of “Mad Men”—something that Friedman hoped to redefine.
“Times were changing, but not fast enough for me,” she recalled. “There was no distinction between ambitious and assertive. ‘Bad woman ... stay in your lane.’”
As much as she loved her job, specifically matching the needs of a targeted brand demographic to those of a certain market, she knew it wasn’t her calling. In the early ’90s, an opportunity materialized when a Taiwan connection wanted to penetrate the U.S. market. And that began her 30-plus run as the leader of what she calls “one of the most creative advertising specialty products designers.”
Sonoma Promotional Solutions, a woman-owned company initially known as Sonoma Pins, has leveraged its expertise and customer demand in designing unique metalwork and jewelry into developing awards, ornaments, desktop sculptures and more. Today, Friedman still approaches every campaign with a marketer’s instincts and a powerful curiosity, staying true to her mission of supporting customers beyond their expectations.
“I love this business,” she enthused. “Where else can you learn about what’s happening in the country and the world, what’s trending, hip and cool before it even becomes that?”
What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally
In the work environment, it is helping a staff member face a challenging life event and maintaining the daytime family environment. Structuring a strategy and plan by taking a customer’s idea and creating a “wow” product, one that makes the customer a hero to their customer and to themselves. A win-win!
[Also] deal making—with anyone who has the same desire. It makes the adrenaline run, the brain challenged, the emotions engaged. Creating a deal that works for everyone—what more could one want in a sales environment?
Literally every day we are presented with opportunities that contribute to enjoyment and happiness for ourselves and our fellow citizens, random acts of kindness. It could be something as small as giving way in a traffic jam, helping that short customer in the grocery [store] get that item off the top shelf, or it could be something grander. More risk involved, more joy to all.
Her Proudest Career Achievement
Every day as I travel through our town, I see indications of the impact I have had on our community. For many years, I chaired the City of Sonoma’s Design Review & Historical Preservation Commission. Faced with tyranny and oppression, American settlers mounted the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, Calif., on June 14, 1846. In a rare feat for the time, they won the battle for independence that very same day—entirely without Republic by raising the first California Bear Flag in the town square.
Balancing the needs of the community to preserve our heritage with the needs of new franchises and businesses coming to town was an experience. Sometimes exhilarating and sometimes exasperating. The hotel chain, the fast-food chain, and the old and rusted newspaper racks that needed upgrading—each of these, and more, have their own story.
That perspective carries through in our product design. We often offer a solution or two, then one that is really out there to see if the customer is willing to take a risk as well. That often produces the most memorable results!
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
I have not experienced [the] “good ol’ boys club” in this industry, nor do I believe it is male-dominated. After searching our extensive 25-plus years database, the data reveal that some years there were more men and some years there were more women. We’re all just human beings.
Her Job Advice to Women
This is such a fun and collaborative industry. A passion for sales is a must. Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. Not taking a risk is a risk. Stay focused, take risks!
Who Inspires Her
Greta Thunberg. While not yet a woman, she is well on her way to further greatness. She is a courageous visionary, which is one of the things this world needs.
How She Motivates Team Members
Money and security.
What She Learned About Herself in 2020
That I am more resilient than I thought.
Her Upcoming Goals
Empowering more people.
What She Wants People to Know About Her
I will not be defeated.
How she recharges
Yoga; hiking; walking Handsome, my Doberman; spa visits; and resort vacations in Mexico.
The Best Book She’s Recently Read
“Endurance” by Alfred Lansing and “The Box” by Marc Levinson. Still searching for a favorite podcast.
The industry has changed and continues to change. We see small businesses challenged to survive, given the broken supply chain. The entrance of public companies and hedge funds into the promo industry impacts all small businesses. One wonders where the country is headed for small businesses. And while I have great respect for the Small Business Association, the SBA needs to better understand the challenges we face.