When Penny Sitler first began attending AV tradeshows more than 30 years ago, there were only a handful of women in attendance. She counted herself as one of the lucky few in large part due to the encouragement and mentorship of her boss, John Pidgeon, who is now president of Draper, where Sitler has worked for 35 years.
While studying romance language and international business at DePauw University, Sitler approached Draper for summer employment in the advertising department where Pidgeon ruled the roost. She did well enough to subsequently gain a four-credit marketing research internship. After graduation, she asked Pidgeon for some advice in her job search. What happened next is almost hard to comprehend by today’s standards.
Sitler recalled, “I asked John for some input on my resume. He refused. Instead, he hired me on the spot.” She still works for Pidgeon, but now as marketing manager at Draper, where she leads a nine-person in-house agency.
What explains Sitler’s happy longevity across various roles in Draper’s advertising and marketing departments? She feels Draper empowers her ethics and integrity, both of which are of utmost importance to her. “The only way I can be is authentic—as a person and in business. Truth is essential. You can still market something effectively without tampering with data or resorting to puffery or manipulating images.”
At Draper, marketing multiple product lines is never a dull task. The company divides its efforts among three categories: audiovisual presentation products, window shades and solar control solutions, and gym and athletic equipment. But no matter what category, innovation and custom solutions are at the forefront. These pillars formed the basis of Sitler’s most monumental task to date—spearheading the rebranding of the company from the ground up in 2017. It required a year of teamwork and mountains of effort.
“We worked on the rebranding all of 2016 and then launched it at InfoComm 2017. New logo, new positioning, and a new tagline, 'Focused on innovative solutions,'” she said. “We’re also just about to launch a completely redone website.”
Just as Sitler finds Draper’s multi-pronged product offering stimulating, she also said the same about the AV industry. “The AV industry has so many different types of manufacturers. And most of them are not competitors, so I enjoy that. I also think AVIXA is a very powerful, unifying force.”
Sitler is active in AVIXA, having won the 2013 Women in AV Award and subsequently joining the committee to choose the recipients. Now she chairs the AVIXA Women’s Council and is helping grow local chapters and guide career empowerment and CTS certification education.
“For the first time, during New York Digital Signage Week, I attended one of the local events in New York. I’m really excited about new networking opportunities, learning, and sharing. I just want to say that so much of what the Women’s Council has achieved is due to the hard work of AVIXA staff members—particularly Betsy Jaffe and Amanda Boyer,” she said. To say things have changed for women in AV would be an understatement. And Sitler is at the forefront of that positive change, and others.
Sitler is also an active volunteer in her community, serving on the board of women’s organizations such as the Indiana Women’s Education Foundation and the Indiana Federation of Business & Professional Women.
Another one of Draper’s passion projects is sustainability. In 2007, she helped Draper set a course of continuous improvement, leading the charge on energy-saving initiatives, recycling, GREENGUARD product certification, and LEED training.
It’s certainly no surprise that many of Sitler’s activities are geared toward improving the status quo. Her core value of integrity means applying her moral principles to supporting other women, her team, the planet, and her beloved company, Draper. She finds true alignment there when it comes to her principles.
She noted, “Draper is unique because it has always been very committed to its community, customers, and the industries we work in. This has never wavered since Draper began in 1902.”
The company has always been located in Spiceland, IN, 40 miles east of Indianapolis, and draws many of its employees from the local community. Sitler lives in the quiet rural community with her husband, Chris, who is the activities director at a senior citizens apartment complex. She is very proud of their two “amazing” children.
“My son, Daniel, is a composer. He’s a student and graduate assistant at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH, and is planning a wedding next May. My daughter, Mariah, is a senior majoring in studio art at Macalester College in St. Paul,” Sitler said.
When not at working in the AV industry, Sitler is a competitive Scrabble player. She is a member of NASPA (North American Scrabble Players Association) and participates in several tournaments each year.
In Scrabble, as in her marketing career, words are everything. And as long as they are spelling out the truth, they’re all right in Sitler’s book.