Print Influencer: Mary Beth Smith

Mary Beth Smith started Girls Who Print in 2009 as an online sorority for women in the industry looking to connect and share their experiences.

Mary Beth Smith started Girls Who Print in 2009 as an online sorority for women in the industry looking to connect and share their experiences.

While industry veteran Mary Beth Smith is currently vice president of sales and marketing for AlphaGraphics, Dallas, Texas, her founding of “Girls Who Print” put her on the international stage in the industry. In addition to blogging and speaking on behalf of women in the industry, she was inducted into the 2012 class of Women of Distinction by Outputlinks Communications Group. With her diverse background in marketing and public speaking, Smith offers a unique insight into ways to use the social media and online communities in order to raise awareness of the contribution of women in print.

How did you find the printing industry as a career?

I didn’t find my way to the printing industry right away. I grew up in a small college town in central Texas and actually majored in music education at Texas Wesleyan College. After teaching music for several years, I turned my volunteer activities in PR and marketing into full-time work and served as a marketing director in the senior health care industry. It wasn’t until sometime later that I found the print industry. When I did, I led territory sales efforts in the printing and packaging field for Copy Cop of Boston and the New England region of the General Binding Corporation for 10 years. I eventually went back to school to pursue a marketing degree. I completed the Graduate Marketing Certificate program at SMU’s Cox School of Business. These days, I focus more heavily on working with indie authors and specialized marketing communications, including social media and online communities. That’s how I got started with Girls Who Print. I saw a need for a sense of community among women in the printing industry and sought to provide a place where they could connect and share their experiences.

How did Girls Who Print get its start?

There was no grand plan when I started Girls Who Print (GWP) on LinkedIn in 2009. There was no serious purpose or ultimate goal, and I had no idea it would grow into what it has. My real aim in starting GWP was to create a friendly community for my sisters in the printing industry. During a time when our field was undergoing a great deal of turmoil, I wanted to foster a sense of camaraderie amongst a group of people who were uncertain about the future of printing and their place in the industry. GWP continues to serve as a virtual sorority where we touch base with each other, share stories and problems and generally cheer each other on.

Originally, I invited about 20 of my female friends from around the country who I thought might join the group. I figured it could be a way to reminisce about printing companies that we had worked for and just stay connected across the miles and years. Imagine my surprise when, by the end of the first week, nearly 100 people had joined! We even had men wanting to join, which was perfectly fine with me as long as they behaved and could laugh along with us when we teased them. I realized pretty quickly something special was happening, and it was much bigger than I could have ever anticipated. GWP now has nearly 6,000 members worldwide.

Why have a national Girls Who Print day?

While the 21st century has seen many great strides toward equality, the print industry is still considered to be male-dominated. We’re combatting this image by making a statement with National Girls Who Print Day, which reminds us of the thousands of women in the industry who are a force to be reckoned with. Women perform key roles in every facet of the printing industry. They do everything from IT, prepress, design, production and finishing to customer service, sales, marketing, ownership and education. Although lighthearted in our approach, and always a little tongue-in-cheek, Girls Who Print takes its role in the printing industry seriously. In addition to celebrating and honoring the vital contribution of women to the industry, National GWP Day uses this platform to highlight mentoring and education, with an emphasis on connecting women leaders with students and the media.

What do you predict for the industry in the next five years?

I think about this all the time. I would say a shift in the thought process and mindset surrounding what companies invest in is going to affect most areas of the industry. Because we are well into the information and technology age, companies will need to invest much more in very smart people instead of simply buying more equipment. I foresee that many small companies will become sales and consulting offices, with more centralized production facilities handling fulfillment. Companies like Semper International are already preparing for the future with its TechCreative initiative, which identifies job candidates who possess both technical skills and the ability to apply them creatively to customer needs. Obviously, educators are preparing workers for this environment. Among others, programs at Clemson, University of Houston and University of Wisconsin-Stout, as well as Ryerson University in Canada, are actively preparing students for careers in the industry.

What role will Girls Who Print continue to serve the industry?

GWP will continue to be a gathering place for women in the industry to network, test ideas, celebrate and educate. I made a conscious decision to NOT formalize GWP as an association or nonprofit. By keeping it informal, it is accessible to everyone. One of the most important roles GWP can play in the future of the industry is to support and encourage students, and that will certainly continue and grow. Additionally, GWP will continue to provide a forum for industry associations to communicate their efforts to serve their members.