ARTICLE

Meet the Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse

Print Media Centr founder Deborah Corn shares her out-of-this-world story and knowledge of the printing world to mark International Print Day.
Deborah Corn and Cathy Bittner stand with microphones in front of a photography display stand in a large exhibition hall.

Print maestro Deborah Corn (right), with Canon EMEA's Cathy Bittner, at the 2019 Hunkeler print industry event in Lucerne, Switzerland. As well as being a podcast host, blogger and industry speaker, Deborah is one of the founders of Girls Who Print, the largest online network of women in the print industry.

New York-born Deborah Corn has created her own unconventional job title within the realm of print. The self-styled 'Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse' has captured the attention of global audiences, in addition to the range of work she's involved in within the printing world.

After more than two decades in advertising, Deborah started an online group, Print Media Centr, to connect and provide "printspiration" to print and marketing professionals. She later founded International Print Day and now hosts both Podcasts From The Printerverse and the weekly #PrintChat on Twitter. Alongside this, she runs the world's largest online network of women in the print industry, Girls Who Print, which is now 8,000 members strong and in its 12th year, and also masterminded Project Peacock, a resource platform for print and marketing professionals around the world.

"I named myself the Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse because I was somebody who helped people to connect to one another," explains Deborah. "I was not there to be the Supreme Leader of the Printerverse… although technically I am!"

Here we discover Deborah's fascinating world, what drives her, and her insights garnered from a lifetime of experience in print.
A Canon display stand featuring two Canon PIXMA PRO-100 printers, a series of colourful prints and a monitor with a woman's highly stylised face on it.

"The printing industry has really evolved and if photographers have not investigated the new tools that are available to them, they should," says Deborah. "There are presses that specialise in digital photography output, there are a myriad of papers and substrates to print on – including metal, wood, surfboards, office doors, walls, floors, ceramics, textiles and more. It's worth checking out everything that's going on."

What is International Print Day and how did it come about?

"The idea came in 2014 during #PrintChat, a weekly gathering on Twitter I co-host with Sandy Hubbard. Every October, the print community takes to their social streams and shares print love with the world. To accommodate all time zones, we celebrate for 24 hours, kicking off in Australia and New Zealand and working our way east.

"We have had participation from six continents and generated more than 156 million impressions on Twitter alone. We have an annual theme – in 2021, it's #PrintAgain – and I would encourage everyone to visit internationalprintday.org for more info, then join in by adding #IPD21 to your social media shares on 20 October 2021."
How did you become involved in the printing world?

"I worked in advertising for over 25 years as a print buyer. I then found myself without a job, so I opened a LinkedIn group in 2008 which afforded me the ability to develop Print Media Centr where I could provide content back into the group. As it started growing, I was able to see from my vantage point when people had questions, what they didn't understand, and products and services they were looking for. I was able to then utilise the vast professional network I developed, the website and my social channels to provide 'printspiration' and resources to print and marketing professionals based on their needs, really making the world of printing more accessible.

"Because they also had specific questions, concerns and technology challenges, and I am not a technical person, the other thing I was able to do was say, 'Hey, I know someone who can help you,' and then help them connect directly. I do not claim to be a printing expert by any means, but I certainly know the people who are the experts. I decided my job was to help the community connect, foster partnerships and create opportunities for open knowledge sharing."
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A series of large, high-quality photography prints on a table with two people looking and pointing at them.

Podcasts From The Printerverse, which Deborah hosts, covers many aspects of print and marketing that lead to business success. There are also several other podcast series that tackle different things going on in the printing industry. Print Buying UKvUSA helps printers create stronger relationships with customers and The PrinterChat Podcast focuses on life in the printshop.

What is the importance of print for a business?

"One of the benefits of using printed materials in a business setting is flexibility. Print covers signage, in-store materials, marketing materials, decor, shirts, hats, customer loyalty and retention materials, SWAG (promotional merchandise) and so much more. With the right print partner or the right printer in-house, a business is only limited by their imagination – and, of course, budget. However, print offers a lot of bang for your business bucks and, with digital printing, things can be ordered and changed as needed. It is worth having a conversation with a printer to explore the possibilities."
Tell us about Girls Who Print – what is it and what do women get out of it?

"It had become a standard practice – and still is in some cases – for industry events and organisations to gather up some very credible women, put them on a panel and centre discussion around, 'So tell us about your experience of being a woman in the printing industry!' I didn't want to focus on that. I wanted to gather up some very credible, fierce, fabulous females and talk to them about how they grew their enterprises and generated new business. How they took their companies or customer portfolio from X-amount to Y-amount in sales. To talk about leadership and present women as smart, powerful and impactful leaders in the industry – and not just for other women, for everyone.

"Some people framed it as, 'You’re helping women get a seat at the industry table' and I’m like, 'No, no, no!' We’ve created our own table. That is the point of Girls Who Print."

Printing a zine with the Canon PIXMA PRO-200

Fashion and portrait photographer Evely Duis explains how she created a handcrafted, personal zine using the Canon pro printer.
Deborah Corn stands at the front of a room with a microphone, in front of rows of seats filled with people. There is a presentation projected onto the wall beside her.

Deborah, pictured here welcoming attendees to an event in Chicago, USA in 2019, is also the mastermind behind Project Peacock. "There are webinars, live events, a growing on-demand library of educational content, 50+ partner booths and of course Canon is there," says Deborah.

What does Project Peacock aim to achieve?

"Back in 2017 when Project Peacock first started, the industry was evolving from analogue to digital at a rapid pace, and print customers were getting left behind. Unless print customers had PSP [print service provider] partners that invested in new digital, inkjet and wide format presses, they weren't being educated on all the new possibilities to execute their work. If a printer doesn't have access to the latest technology, they aren't going to tell their customers about a better, smarter, faster, more customisable way to print – that they can't deliver.

"Because of my background in advertising, I knew there was a real need for direct print customer education to get them excited about new presses, finishing, paper and substrates, the new applications they could create and marketing technology they could tack on to provide a digital bridge and data reporting. After many frustrating conversations about whose responsibility it was to educate print customers, I decided to take it on myself, and Project Peacock was born – at a Canon event in Melville, New York as a matter of fact!

"I needed partners who built the presses and finishing equipment, who made the paper and developed the software. The conference room visits evolved into pop-up events in 2019 and we had met with over 2,200 print customers before Covid-19 shut us down in 2020. In 2021, I morphed Project Peacock into an online resource platform to provide intelligence, samples and partners 24/7 from wherever you are."
Deborah Corn gives two thumbs-up to the camera. She is in a dark room lit by many strands of multi-coloured fairy lights.

Deborah at Expográfica in Mexico City in August 2021. If she could offer one piece of advice to print enthusiasts looking to build an online audience it would be to stay authentic. "Don't do things out of your comfort zone because you think they're popular," she says. "Cultivate a quality over quantity community that is willing to support your endeavours because you are delivering information that matters to them."

When most images are viewed on screens, why should photographers print more?

"I don't know anybody that hangs an iPad with a photo of their diploma on their wall. I don't know anyone who hangs their cellphone with a magnet on their refrigerator to look at pictures of their family. If it's printed in front of you, you can't delete it by accident. It can't be lost if your computer dies, and you can't restore it. Now that might seem like a predictable answer, but there are some experiences you cannot recreate by scrolling through an image library. Having photos in your hands – through books and magazines and collectable bespoke items – helps create a deeper connection."

What do you see in store for the future of printing?

"I think that we are at a crossroads of what the future of print could be, and it boils down to the people we can attract to work in the printing industry. Right now, the industry is facing a significant workforce development crisis. Until we can successfully rebrand ourselves as an innovative, creative and inclusive industry, we're going to have a serious problem having a future. We need to support the graphic communications programmes, develop formal internship and apprenticeship channels, and make sure that everyone understands how cool print really is. If a student wants to work at Apple, they should want to work in the printing industry. There are many similarities – we need to make that case, loud and proud!"

Írta: Lorna Dockerill


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