Advertising is an industry that puts products and services in their best light as well as in the spotlight. So, it isn’t surprising that the profession has a number of confident, Type A personalities in it — people who like to put themselves in the spotlight.

But that isn’t Debbie Rainford’s style, in spite of being the founder and president of one of the most successful advertising agencies in the D.C. area. Last year, MarCom Group ranked number 10 on Washington Business Journal’s Largest Advertising Agencies in Greater Washington, D.C., and made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America.

But rather than leveraging that renown to boost her own image, she’s happiest when her clients and staff get the credit for the agency’s award-winning work. Content to manage the company’s affairs behind the scenes, Debbie leads by example, helping out wherever she’s needed and by showing quiet confidence in herself and in her team.

“There are a lot of executives in the business who enjoy speaking at industry events, who want to give the keynote address at conferences,” she concedes. “But that really isn’t me. I like to surround myself with people who know how to do the work and then empower them to do the work. Their success becomes our clients’ success, and that helps the company grow.”

And in March – Women’s History Month – Debbie is especially appreciative of the many women who have been trailblazers in the history of advertising. Women such as Mathilde Weil, founder of the first true ad agency in 1880; Christine Frederick, who established the first advertising industry association for women in 1912; and other pioneers in the field like Mary Wells Lawrence, Shirley Polykoff, and Barbara Gardner Proctor.

“When I first came into the business in the late 1970s and 1980s, it was still largely a man’s world,” she recalls. “Women were meant to get coffee and take notes and look pretty on the trade show floor. So I feel honored to be in the company of really powerful women who have done this for so many years, who eventually made it possible for me to be here.”

A Pioneer in Federal Recruitment Branding.

Debbie herself can claim a distinctive place in that history. MarCom Group is one of the pioneers in federal agency branding, especially in the field of employment branding.

MarCom Group opened its doors in 1996, specializing in events planning and management. That led to a contract with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to support federal agencies’ recruiting teams at career fairs. Very quickly, those engagements revealed that the agencies needed help with employment branding and messaging in order to position themselves as attractive places to work.

“Joe Stix was our contact at OPM,” Debbie recalls, “and he saw that these agencies needed to improve their image as potential employers.” Today, Joe works for MarCom Group as project director for its recruiting clients – a reflection of Debbie’s philosophy of hiring the right people for the right positions and letting them do their best.

Joe himself remembers that “some agencies had homemade, handwritten signs on easels as their only identification. Many didn’t have brochures or other handouts to support their work.” Such efforts couldn’t compete with the huge booths and flashy literature of private-sector recruiters in the very same exhibit halls.

In response, Debbie quickly added branding and messaging to MarCom Group’s growing portfolio of capabilities in order to provide these agencies with effective images and compelling hiring messages. MarCom Group soon became the branding firm of choice among federal recruiters, working with more than 20 federal and Defense-related agencies,including the General Services Administration (GSA), Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), Defense Contract Management Agency, Department of Labor, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Air Force Civilian Service (AFCS), and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

Joe attributes MarCom Group’s popularity to the communication skills and responsiveness of Debbie and her husband (and MarCom Group CEO), Bob, as well as the talents of the firm’s personnel. “They know how to listen to the various, often competing voices within a client,” Joe says, “and then come back with multiple options for branding and messaging that would satisfy each of their hiring requirements.”

And, while the message may be the medium, getting the message right is crucial in federal recruiting. Joe explains that there are specific requirements that must be met in communications for federal recruiting and hiring. MarCom Group not only provides an appealing look; they also know how to portray the agency to its many potential hires as a place they’d want to work while complying with the regulatory requirements for message content.

As digital communications have overtaken physical media, MarCom Group has added website development and design, email marketing, video production, animation, and social media outreach to its offerings. Website design for federal recruiting requires a particular set of diplomatic skills as well as design capabilities. The agency’s IT department frequently “owns” the website, and some negotiation is often needed to develop a careers page or section that sizzles with excitement while also complying with the website’s security requirements and high standards. It’s an area that MarCom Group specializes in, notably developing .com website for AFCS’s recruiting efforts, just one part of marcom’s award-winning service on AFCS’s behalf.

Nearly Three Decades of Success in the Industry.

After nearly 30 years of success in leading by example and quiet confidence, Debbie looks back with appreciation for the clients and staff who have made MarCom Group’s awards, recognition, and achievements possible.

There were times in the early years when things were a struggle, she admits, “but at the end of the day I think back and remember that we went from hiring three people on our original team back in the 1990s, to now being up to more than 60. It feels good to have accomplished that.”

Women’s History Month is the ideal time to recognize and honor the role of women throughout history. In typical fashion, Debbie talks about how proud she is of the MarCom Group team that continues to innovate, transform, and provide exceptional service and support to its clients. There’s no doubt this powerhouse, woman-owned small business has cemented its place in the history of federal advertising and marketing under her leadership.

About the author: Frank Johnson is a senior writer with MarCom Group. He has 40 years’ experience in marketing content and copywriting, creative direction, and creative promotional thinking on both the agency and client side. He has worked in business-to-business, business-to-government, and consumer marketing communications in a variety of industries, including cybersecurity, information technology, telecommunications, publishing, and business and professional services.