By Michele Cohen
Debra Stack ’92, Graphic Design, holds fast to the belief that if you want something in life, you have to make it happen for yourself.
That “go-getter” spirit has served her well over the years, as a self-starter who runs two successful businesses today.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I’ve always created great learning experiences for myself,” she said.
Stack is the owner of Stack Design, a full-service branding and advertising agency in Philadelphia. She recently started a new business, as a managing partner of PhotoBuzz, an event photography marketing company.
“Growing up and losing my parents at a young age, I developed good survival skills,” she said. “I also have multiple skill sets and great networking skills. I know a lot of creative people who are very talented but don’t have the business acumen. Luckily, I have both.”
Stack grew up in the Poconos and spent much of her time drawing and finding creative outlets. “There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the Poconos, but there were always a lot of vacation homes being built. My brother and I would go in the scrap piles and pick up scrap wood and build tree forts and create things. I always liked to build and put things together.”
Stack learned about Moore through a high school guidance counselor. While she was accepted at both Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design, Stack knew she didn’t want to attend a large school or travel too far from home. Money was also a factor.
“I grew up with a single mother because my dad died when I was 2,” she said. “I knew she would have to pay for my brother to go to college, too. I had a strong portfolio entering Moore and received a large scholarship. It was already a great school, but the scholarship program was one of the deciding factors.”
Stack is grateful that she was able to attend a small women’s college where she could focus on her artwork 24-7. “There were no distractions. We put so much time into our craft. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those long studio classes. Moore also felt like home to me, especially getting that individualized attention.”
After graduation, Stack began working at a small design firm in Philadelphia, Hansen Design, under illustrator Jennifer Hansen. There, she got hands-on experience and built a solid portfolio. She then started freelancing, booking clients like Elizabeth Arden and Parham Santana, a design firm in New York City. Stack spent five years as Senior Art Director at Tierney Communications, an advertising agency. Ultimately, she decided to start her own business.
“Working at Hansen, I already had the graphic design skills, but at Tierney I learned how to design advertising campaigns and TV commercials,” she said.
Stack continued laying the groundwork for her business while working part-time at Comcast and growing her client list through word of mouth. “My career kind of exploded after that.”
Over her 14 year career at Stack Design, Stack helped design Moore’s 160th Anniversary promotional campaign and created Penn Medicine’s “Your Life is Worth Penn Medicine” campaign, among others. She’s very excited about her new business, PhotoBuzz, which launched in June 2016. The company uses a specific photo product at events that provides the event host with a unique marketing tool.
“We have young and energetic photographers who walk around the event and ask people if they would like a complimentary photo,” she said. “Within 40 seconds of asking the guest, a 4 x 6 photo is printed on a mobile unit on the hip of our photographer and placed into a high-quality photo frame that is highly designed with corporate branding related to the event and to the company sponsoring the event. We also give the client digital images to post on their social media pages.”
So far Stack and her partner, Can Boluk, have provided PhotoBuzz event photography marketing services for companies such as Jefferson Health and Independence Blue Cross.
Stack credits Moore for a lot of her success today. She recently returned to the College to help judge the Happy Fernandez Women's Leadership Prize applications and hopes to continue working with students in the future.
“The idea of Moore being such a small school – it really gives the individualized attention that propels students’ growth, both personally and professionally. It gave me a solid foundation and the technical knowledge I needed. It was a very practical experience.”