Katie Cole: Part of the Team
Katie Cole didn’t start off in the print industry, but she developed a true passion for everything it has to offer and doesn’t see herself going anywhere else.
Currently the strategic account manager – Wide-Format for Visual Marking Systems (VMS), based in Twinsburg, Ohio, Cole grew up in the small town of Findlay, where she graduated with a class of just 56 people, and then went on to Bowling Green College, where she majored in Visual Communications Technology. With that degree, she went on to secure a position at a radio station, doing graphic design work. From there, she notes, she happened to come across an open position at VMS and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“I never worked in the print industry prior to this,” says Cole. “I started off as a graphic artist, and then was promoted to art director. And now I’ve taken a role as the strategic account manager for wide format in the sales department.”
“Katie has been instrumental in the growth of our wide-format products,” says Eric Kahle, chief revenue officer at the company, Cole’s immediate boss, and the person who nominated her as a Rising Star. “She started as a graphic artist and took off with wide-format knowledge. She went on to become our art director. Recently, Katie was promoted into the wide-format strategic account manager position at VMS. She is responsible for the design and development of all wide-format products, from vehicles to walls, windows, floors, and unique wide-format applications. Our customers love working with her, and she brings exciting, positive energy to our company.”
That transition from graphic design to wide-format sales didn’t happen overnight. Cole notes that she “loved doing art,” but was “always looking for something new. I am very passionate about VMS, and I intend on staying here for my whole career.”
With that in mind, she notes, when the sales position became available, she sat down with Kahle to see if it would be a good fit for her to move into, where she can continue to grow her skills and learn more about the industry. He agreed, and she was excited to get started. “Learning a whole new area was very intriguing to me,” she notes. “I had managed a couple of accounts as an artist, so I was familiar with quoting and with communicating with the customers.” She laughs that she also loves to talk, so moving into sales was a perfect fit for her.
At Her Back
One of the biggest highlights of her career so far, notes Cole, is the incredible team at VMS who have not only been available to help her learn the print industry, but to back her up and answer questions along the way.
“I also have strong leadership to help guide me and help me succeed,” she says, noting that the focus on elements such as ensuring the company can get the work done on time and at a high-quality level has really helped shape the kind of employee she wants to be.
“I really enjoy problem solving,” she says. “When brands come to us, my background in art means I know the material options, and different ways to design a piece, so I can really help them from the beginning to the end of the process. I can speak to all of it — the art, the materials, the different applications.”
That said, Cole points out that she has only been in her new role in sales for about a month, so she still knows there is a long way to go. She notes that she is still in the process of taking over the accounts and managing existing clients, connecting to people daily, and helping them transition. “One of the biggest challenges has been walking into projects that I don’t have any knowledge of but helping to complete them. I’m communicating with customers and getting details they’ve already explained before. I want to come in as a resource and not a burden, I want to help them get their products and make the entire process smooth, but it can be difficult when it was passed off and I don’t know what’s going on.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson she has learned so far is to go back to that supportive team and not be afraid to ask questions. “You have to learn to lean on your team when you need to,” she notes. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I am one of those people who will try to do everything I can, but over the years I’ve learned that you must lean on that support system every now and then. It’s one of the best ways to get things done.”
So where does Cole see herself in the future? First and foremost, she says, she doesn’t see herself leaving VMS. “This is the company I want to work for,” she says. “I love and respect the family who run it, and I want my name associated with it.”
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have ambition to move up, however. Within the next 10 years, she notes, she sees herself moving into an executive manager position, although she does want to stay on the wide-format side of the business. That said, she notes “that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn about other things, like analog printing, or OEM labels, or the apparel business that’s a sister company of ours.”
But all that experience, she says, would be to further the goal of eventually stepping into bigger shoes. “The more I can learn about our areas of expertise, the more I can bring to the table,” Cole says. “I could see myself one day, when Eric [Kahle] takes over the company, stepping into his role. I’m here to help the company in any way I can.”
But loving both her company and the print industry doesn’t mean she doesn’t see room for improvement. “I wish people would understand that you can’t get things tomorrow,” she says. “There is a process it takes to produce it, and we want to ensure we’re putting out a quality product. Sometimes there are steps we need to take to ensure we’ll give you a product that fits your needs — sometimes a site survey, or seeing a vehicle or wall in person, or a press proof to verify the colors. There is much more that goes into print than people think.”
But she notes it is an exciting industry to work in, and she encourages others to follow in her footsteps, stepping outside of the graphic design box to embrace all that the print industry has to offer. “Most artists, especially those right out of college, are just looking for some experience that will bring some joy to their life,” she says. “And in the printing world, you’re never producing the same stuff twice. Yeah, you might do wraps for customers, but you’re always getting new requests and new challenges. It can be frustrating, but also exciting. I get to come in to work and learn something new every day.”
Her biggest piece of advice to those considering this career path, however, is to just be patient with themselves. “You are never going to walk in somewhere and know everything on the first day,” she says. “And you won’t know everything even 10 years after being somewhere. This industry changes so fast, and technology changes, so it’s always ongoing education. You must be patient with yourself — it’s not that you’re uneducated, but that there are many ways to do things, and you have to explore those options.”
And now Cole is looking to be the kind of teammate who helped her succeed as she entered the print industry, trying to ensure she is both a support structure and resource to those who are coming in behind her. “I have a passion for VMS, and I want others to adopt it,” she notes. Helping others succeed and being part of the team and giving back is something she truly enjoys.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.