Women in Print and Promo: Jill Adams, The Creative J – A Geiger Affiliate
Founder and Owner
The Creative J – A Geiger Affiliate, Omaha, Neb.
Years of experience: 27
How she got her start: When I graduated from Creighton University in 1988, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I had a computer science major with a journalism minor. I knew I didn’t want to spend my day programming, and being a reporter wasn’t quite it either. During my senior year, Creighton offered the very first desktop publishing class using the Mac SE. You’d swap floppy disks in and out (one for PageMaker, one for your files)—there were no hard drives yet. I loved it, so I ended up getting a job as a designer for a direct mail company right after graduation. I also started doing freelance graphic design as back then, designers made barely more than minimum wage.
One of my freelancing jobs was formatting a directory for a commercial printer. I ended up working for them full time until I had an opportunity to work in a new industry [for] Omaha CitiNet—some crazy way of connecting people through computers or terminals using phone lines. ... I spent my days setting up and monitoring chat rooms, designing very basic pixel-type graphics for advertisers and creating simple sites for businesses. ... Most of us ended up leaving after a year or two because we just didn’t see a future there!
... I went back to commercial printing and was there for 14 years before starting my promotional product distributorship in 2004. While in printing, I worked 12 years for a printing company in Omaha, helping the owner start and run the business. This started back in 1993 when desktop publishing was just taking off. I was in charge of figuring out all the technology and implementing it. We were one of the first companies to use direct-to-film and then, direct-to-plate printing processes—a lot of very late nights and lots of on-the-job learning. ... After a few years, another woman was added to the management of the business and the two of us ran the day-to-day operations until I left in 2004. I was ready for a new challenge and something a little different from printing—and hopefully not as stressful.
I started The Creative J with a female friend [that year]. We were partners until she left the workforce in 2010. Since then, I have been the sole owner of The Creative J, managing the entire business. I put my computer degree to good use, designing and programming my own order and contact system using Filemaker Pro. ... Though it wasn’t my intention, the business has remained 100 percent woman-run. This past year, I decided to affiliate with Geiger, a national distributor.
What she loves most about the industry: Every day is different, and because you are working with multiple types of industries and businesses, you are exposed to a lot of variety. It also seems that almost every day I’m learning something new, either due to researching specific products or how they will be used, or learning more about the companies or organizations we work with. In addition, you get to be creative. I can use my graphic design and marketing skills not only for my customers, but for my business.
An average day: My typical day can vary quite a bit. I may have accounting things to do like checking invoices and paying bills. Usually, I’ll have various requests from customers for product ideas or pricing. I’ll put together quotes and research best options for promos and apparel requests. We’ll usually start the day with a short meeting to talk about what we’re working on, brainstorm ideas for specific clients and our prospecting progress. I may work on various marketing things for our business—either coming up with mailings, promo items and campaigns for new customers, or posting to social media sites or developing ways to keep our name in front of our customers. Throughout the day, my staff and I will collaborate on ideas—maybe new products or suppliers we’ve found, items that might be perfect for a particular customer, or working together on bid requests. Some days we will go out and meet with clients and drop off samples.
I may have a great plan in place of what I want to accomplish each day, but often that plan gets blown out of the water when a rush order comes in. You just never know what your day will be like, which is part of why I like this job.
Her proudest career achievements: One of the most recent achievements that I really am proud of is the Gold Technology Award I received from PPAI this year for our website. I spent July through November 2015 redesigning and programming our website from scratch. I used WordPress, and, being new to it, I had to learn as I went along. Having that effort awarded really did make it all worth it.
Most of all, however, I’m proud of creating a business that supports several people and provides an environment for growth and learning. I’ve got a wonderful staff of smart, creative women who truly enjoy working with each other and supporting one another through whatever life throws at us.
On working in a traditionally male-dominated industry: Now that I’ve been in the promotional product side of the business the last 12 years, I haven’t really faced any issues since it tends to involve more women. When I worked in printing, things were definitely the reverse. In the printing company I was at, out of the 50-plus employees there, I would say 3/4 were men. On the management side, it was split pretty even. I never felt I really had to overcome anything by being one of the few women there. If anything, it was more a case of having to overcome being younger and less experienced at the time than most of the other men. I was usually about 10 years younger than the press and bindery department managers. I would get called a “rookie” at times. I just always made sure that I learned as much as I could about every aspect possible.
... I did have one case where I was managing a man in the camera department. We all took turns cleaning the film processor, but he felt it was beneath his position and was not cooperative about it with me. It all came to a head one day when he told the owner he was above that and he didn’t take orders from a woman. Needless to say, that was his last day, by his choice. Up to that point, the owner didn’t believe me when I would tell him the issues I was having with this employee. (The owner was such a fair man who respected women that he really couldn’t believe that someone would have an issue with a female supervisor.) Once he heard it straight from the employee’s mouth, he finally believed it, and did apologize to me.
Her job advice to women: Learn, learn, learn. The more you know, the more you can be an expert, the better you will do and the further you will go. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, when you are the person in the room who can offer solutions based on knowledge of how things work, people will listen and respect you. I’ve been out of school for almost 30 years now, but I’ve never stopped learning. I’m always looking for the newest technology and better and more efficient ways to accomplish my work.
Who she turns to for career advice: My business has been through a lot of ups and downs the past few years. Every time I hit a significant change, I talk to a lot of people I consider my support system. When you run a small business, you’re the only person making the big decisions. It can be stressful and challenging. I’ll contact the owner of the print company where I used to work. He’s always been a great mentor in my career. Since I worked with him when he started the print shop from scratch, I learned a lot about how to approach business decisions and how to deal with employees and vendors. In addition to him, I’ve got other friends, business owners and contacts that I’ll meet with to get their take on my situation. Getting that outside unbiased opinion can really help you look at a situation more clearly, or just reaffirm you are making the right decision. And now that I’ve affiliated with Geiger, I literally have a support system of over 400 other sales partners, as well as the management and staff at their headquarters who are always willing to offer support, advice and just an ear to listen.
When she’s off the clock: Right now, my life is pretty much filled with my kids’ activities. I have two boys, ages 14 and 17, who are involved in various activities. I’ll admit, if I’m not at a game or school event, I do like just crashing on the couch and watching one of the many TV series I love. I do try to sneak a book in here and there, with history-based fiction or non-fiction being my favorite. My husband and I live on a small acreage outside of Omaha, so we do enjoy sitting outside once the weather warms up and just enjoying the peace and quiet. I also enjoy photography and like to use that for a creative outlet. Even though I’m a business owner and my job requires a lot of customer interaction, I’m an introvert at the core, so I much prefer quiet nights at home to anything else.
(The following profile appeared in Print+Promo’s “These Women Mean Business” cover story in the May 2017 issue.)
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.