Under 40: Sarah Whitaker, Williams Advertising LLC
Sarah Whitaker, 32
Owner, Client Success Manager
Williams Advertising LLC, Hopkinsville, Ky.
How she got her start: In 2015, I lived in Evansville, Ind. My husband and I are from Hopkinsville, Ky., and we decided we would like to move back home. My background is in marketing—I had worked in marketing at a textbook company in Murray, then in marketing and customer service for corporate relocations at the Atlas Van Lines/Atlas World Group headquarters in Evansville. My grandfather, Doug Williams, started with ad specialties in the 1980s. When we made the decision to move home, I approached him about expanding what his company offered. I wanted to grow the promo side of the business, but I also wanted to begin offering marketing services. Fast forward to today, and I co-own Williams Advertising LLC with him.
Her current role: We’re a diverse company in that we offer promo products as half of our business, and marketing services as the other half. In my current role as co-owner of our boutique agency, I do a little bit of everything. In my role as owner, I evaluate our strategy and am always trying to improve the customer experience, adapt our business to what we can do well and what customers need. I am also customer service, sales, order fulfillment, designer, social media manager, web strategist and all things as they relate to print, promo and marketing.
What she likes best about her job: Easily my favorite part of my job is helping my clients grow their business. When I see an idea I’ve had impact their business, or help them make money or increase their brand awareness—that’s so much fun. I have a lot of really great clients that I get excited about their businesses and helping them succeed, so it’s fun when that happens.
Age roadblocks and advantages: I think an advantage of my age is that I’ve got a good mix of experience, yet I’m still of the mindset that anything is possible, which I hope doesn’t change. I also have clients that are specifically looking to market to millennials, and fitting squarely in that group, I am in a good position to give advice about purchasing or marketing as it relates to that group. I think the biggest challenge in this season of my life right now is balance. I’m growing a family and a business, all at the same time, as we are raising a two-year-old daughter. So, some days, it’s a combination of “Moana” and marketing. She already pretends she’s “doing an order,” so there are definitely times it all blends together.
Her biggest career influence: Certainly, my grandfather has been the single biggest influence on me in the promo industry. I remember as a kid coming to his office or flipping through his catalogs, no way knowing that one day I’d be doing the very same thing as him. He definitely has a way in sales that I’m not sure I can ever replicate. And he remembers everything. He’s 87 years old, and he can tell you what pen you ordered, what supplier it was from, how much it cost when you last ordered it, the quantity you did and why you did it—even if it was years ago. Without his start in the industry, and his willingness to let me come in and help evolve the business, I’d not have the opportunity I do today.
Her most meaningful business accomplishment: My most meaningful accomplishment in my business career has been growing our business. I think something that doesn’t occur to most people who don’t own their own (especially small) business is that if you don’t make sales, if you don’t get that order or that business—you don’t get a paycheck. When I look back and think about [how] I completely abandoned a very promising career at a great company to go out on my own … establish my own customers and start a whole other division offering new services no one else was offering, I’m really proud that I had the guts to do that.
Her differentiating factor: We’re really focusing on improving the customer experience, especially on the promo side this year, so that we can continue to grow and be nimble to customer expectations. Technology is huge. I completely understand someone wanting to shop at midnight in their PJs and just be done with an order rather than calling me. On the other hand, some customers want my expertise, they like to have me recommend things, and then they come visit to see all of our samples and past work. So for me, it’s striking a good balance between those who prefer the brick-and-mortar experience and those who just want to do everything online. I’m working on our online store (shop.williamsadco.com) right now to make sure online checkout is streamlined and the site is a better experience for our users. We take orders through text, Facebook message—whatever the customer needs that experience to be. ... I used to be on the corporate side of this industry, so I know what it’s like to be a buyer. I also bring the marketing experience to make a promo purchase a business driver for my clients, in many cases.
Why she believes the future is bright: The promo industry is so diverse and such an integral piece of nearly every single business. I can’t think of a single business that wouldn’t in some way—and in most cases many ways—benefit from working with a promo company to improve their business. That’s a huge indicator for a thriving industry. If we can continue to offer the nearly limitless possibilities that we do with custom items, continue to offer new techniques for decoration and introduce new products all the time, the industry will continue to thrive.