Bookmark and Share Gerianne Smart

Smart Cookie

This woman’s first big triumph was selling herself

by Keith Morrill

Although Smart Communication, Gerianne Smart’s advertising, marketing, promotion and public relations company in Vergennes, boasts a list of clients, the first one stands above the rest.

Gerianne Smart could never be accused of being dull or anything less than passionate in all she endeavors. In her own words: “I need to be firing about five jets at a time. I know that’s how I am.” That sort of energy has paid off for Smart, a woman of many talents, and the driving force behind Smart Communication Inc., an advertising, marketing, promotion and PR company with its finger on the pulse of Vermont.

Smart’s primary client is Vermont Life. The display and classified ads readers see in the magazine’s pages are solely the work of Smart Communication and its employees. She sells the advertising, helping clients make the right choices regarding ad size and placement. 

It’s always been that way. Before Smart, Vermont Life carried no advertising. Smart Communication was a company born from need, and to understand how Gerianne Smart came to establish her own company, it’s essential to know how she came to Vermont.

Smart grew up in New Jersey within view of the Manhattan skyline. She saw the Twin Towers being built. When she grew up, she did “what people were supposed to do” — she went off to the city — in this case, Washington, D.C., to study at Trinity College, majoring in psychology and criminal justice, intent on becoming a lawyer. That idea lasted as long as her internship, when she realized that dealing with the seedy side of the law wasn’t quite her cup of tea.

Smart returned home to job-hunt in New York, and landed a seemingly unlikely job as assistant to a publisher at a magazine company. “The reason I got the job was because I could write a sentence,” says Smart. 

She attributes that to her education at Trinity, which was writing-intensive, to say the least. “I had to write everything, and argue everything, and find the root cause of everything. I was learning sales pitches then, and I didn’t even know it.” 

This would continue to serve her well when a position for promotion manager opened up within the company. She applied and landed the position and jumped in without any training. Smart recalls, “I got a baptism in printing and publishing and promotion and marketing and PR.” She spent three years in the position before being headhunted to Editor & Publisher, where she worked promotion and marketing for the next three years.

Abby HummelGerianne Smart’s sister, Abby Hummel, was the person who introduced her to Vermont. Hummel, a sales rep, has worked for Smart since 1994.

All this time, Smart was involved in a secret love affair to the north — with Vermont. Her sister, Abby Hummel, lived here, giving Smart the perfect opportunity for frequent getaways. “Every chance I got I was visiting,” Smart recalls. “Every holiday I was up here.” She even subscribed to Vermont Life, which helped satiate her longing for the Green Mountain State. 

In October 1990, the opportunity to move presented itself. At a gathering in Albany (Vt.), she met John Lazenby, the associate editor of Vermont Life. Admittedly, she gushed a little, praising the magazine, while lamenting that it didn’t take advertising. After all, it was what she knew. During its years of operation, the magazine had been an ad-free book. However, she learned that change was on the horizon. 

The issue of advertising was scheduled to go before the Legislature in January of the coming year. If all went well, the state-owned magazine would be allowed to accept advertising, and a position would have to be created to accommodate the new work. Smart was determined to get that job. “Every time I visited, I would make sure I connected with those folks, and made sure that they had my resume,” she says. Her persistence paid off. 

The Legislature gave the green light for advertisements — but there was a catch. The magazine couldn’t spend any money on it, and it couldn’t hire anyone. The solution was to outsource it to Adirondack Life. Smart interviewed with both magazines, and won the position with Adirondack Life. Because Vermont Life had never done advertising before, Smart had to build the model of operation from the ground up, and she had just six weeks to do it in preparation for the forthcoming winter issue. 

Smart has set a precedent that continues to serve the magazine well to this day, says Tom Kelly, the publisher of Vermont Life. “A lot of people had some questions whether it would be a good thing for Vermont Life to have advertising, and she really helped to answer the question. I think the advertising that we carry in Vermont Life is really an enhancement, and readers like it pretty universally. By and large, it really represents the great products, services, entertainment and attractions of Vermont that go hand-in-hand with our articles, so it fits perfectly.”

Tom ShampnoisSmart recently hired Tom Shampnois, the former director of sales and marketing at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. He heads up the sales effort for Vermont Life products such as calendars and books to dealers and retailers.

As group marketing and sales director, part of Smart’s job was to manage advertising and marketing for Adirondack Life and a growing number of magazines under the New-York-based magazine’s umbrella — a total of five magazines. It made for a hectic life running from Montpelier to Albany to Lake Placid, and seemingly everywhere in between. 

Due to eventual restructuring at Adirondack Life, Smart decided to form her own company in 1997. Part of that restructuring left the contract with Vermont Life open for bid, and Smart jumped at the opportunity. Now instead of being spread thin among numerous magazines, she was able to focus on one. Thus Smart Communication was born. 

Since then, she has added Middlebury’s alumni magazine to her list of clients, as well as several small businesses. Smart provides them with a number of services, including facilitating workshops to fix problems with marketing, image or branding. “It’s very fun for me,” says Smart, downplaying her role in the process. “The answer is always right there in the room with the staff. I just need to pull it out of them. What do I know? I just trust that it’s there.” 

She does this by asking the right questions to get the staff to say what they may have known (but not realized) all along, and leaving the staff with a sense of accomplishment for having figured it out themselves. 

To manage the work, Smart Communication depends upon the skill of two other full-time employees: Hummel, Smart’s sister, who began working for her in ’94, several years prior to the establishment of Smart Communication, and Tom Shampnois. She and Shampnois met when Smart took up advertising responsibilities for Vermont Life. Shampnois was working in marketing at Vermont Teddy Bear Co., one of the first companies Smart contacted when seeking prospective advertisers.

Increased use of the Internet has created several challenges that Smart Communication has had to deal with. She’s used advertisers with whom she’s developed a lasting relationship to act as guinea pigs for Vermont Life’s new advertising spots on its home page. What surprised her most was their willingness to participate in the test run, no questions asked. 

Smart has been able to lend her talents to a number of Vermont committees, organizations and commissions. In Vergennes, she is well-known as a participant in the Vergennes Opera House restoration. 

In 2003, the Vermont Council on Rural Development assembled the Council on Cultural Innovations, on which Smart served along with 19 others. The purpose of the council was to study and support the development of Vermont’s creative economy. Smart is also on the Governor’s Commission for the Quadricentennial Celebration of Lake Champlain, serving as co-chairwoman of the marketing committee.

These days, her fifth jet is sending her in the direction of film. Smart is involved in Pasture Productions with her friend George Woodard, a filmmaker. Acting as producer and co-writer, she’s spent the last few years on a project titled The Summer of Walter Hacks. Nearly finished, the film is in the final stages of editing and will be ready for next year’s movie festivals. •

Bookmark and Share