by Frank Johnson


It isn’t possible to describe a “typical” federal contractor. They come in all shapes and sizes, from literal mom-and-pop shops to members of the Fortune 100. They span all industries and fields of expertise, from children’s toys and musical instruments to advanced healthcare services and the world’s most sophisticated weapons systems.

The federal marketplace is also a unique business environment that weeds out firms that aren’t able to negotiate its complexities. Each contractor must find its own path to success, which requires excellence in performance as well as diligence in meeting the detailed specifications of the contracts for which they want to qualify.

MarCom Group, an award-winning provider of marketing services to the federal government, has been traveling the federal-contracting path for more than two decades. Debbie Rainford, the company’s founder and president, says that the journey has posed challenges and yielded rewards throughout those years.

The trip began shortly after she established the company in 1996, when an opportunity in the federal space arose.

“Early on, we had a business partner who brought us in to do some strategic marketing work for one of their federal clients,” she explains. “We wrote a description of our services and gave them a price quote. It wasn’t the same competitive environment as today, requiring a formal proposal and extensive documentation.”

As MarCom Group’s federal business continued to grow, so did the complexity of the federal market for advertising services. Debbie recalls that the September 11th terrorist attacks were one of the inflection points in the firm’s development.

“Businesses were pulling back on advertising in the wake of 9/11,” she remembers, “whereas the federal government continued to spend, especially in recruitment for the military and homeland security, which was our area of expertise.”

That spending drew more advertising agencies to the federal space, prompting MarCom Group to up its game with a more methodical approach to competing for federal work.

“We needed expertise in the contracting process, so we brought on staff with experience in winning and managing government business,” Debbie says. She also realized that her firm needed to be on a GSA Multiple Award Schedule contract, a daunting process for a company of any size. They obtained their first 20-year GSA Schedule in 2002 and recently renewed it for another 20 years.

Going through those experiences reinforced a lesson Debbie had already learned in the course of her career.

“I had a mentor early on who told me that you don’t have to be the smartest person, you just have to surround yourself with smart people to be successful,” she explains. “That’s really true in government contracting. You have to know the ins and outs and how to navigate the schedule. The rules for working with the government can be intricate and intimidating, so you have to have people who know how the system works.”

Women-owned Businesses Exemplify the Rewards of Doing Things Right.

Karen Gordon Mills, a former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), said in a Fortune magazine interview, “It’s not government that creates jobs, it’s small business. Our job is to make sure they have the access to capital, the access to contracting opportunities, and the help, advice and mentoring that they need to go out and be successful.”

One of the ways the SBA provides access to contracting opportunities is through its Women-owned Small Business (WOSB) program. Established in 2011, this program enables more than 12,000 WOSBs to compete for federal business in specific industries where such enterprises are underrepresented.

As MarCom Group’s journey into federal contracting progressed, Debbie ensured that her firm gained certification as a WOSB. This status makes MarCom Group eligible for federal contracts reserved for the program’s participants. The goal of the program is to award at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to WOSBs each year.

Debbie also appreciates the dynamic of women supporting one another in federal business, citing a particular client who had encouraged her in MarCom Group’s work.

“She helped me get another contract that she was responsible for, because she thought we did good work and because she wanted to support women in business. That meant a lot to me, that a client would validate the value of what we were doing.”

A significant milestone in MarCom Group’s contracting journey was Debbie’s acquisition of LMD, another SBA-certified Women-owned Small Business in the marketing communications field. Like MarCom Group, LMD has clients in the private and public sectors. Both companies have their own GSA Schedules. But the most important thing they have in common is their people-first orientation.

Debbie was first presented with this opportunity in the spring of 2021. “As their principal and I talked, we realized we held similar philosophies,” she says. “We each really cared about our employees. It wasn’t about ‘money first.’ We took care of our staff. We put together benefit packages that would attract people and keep them. We both did all the right things to create a supportive culture in our two businesses.”

MarCom Group and LMD just celebrated their second year working independently as sister companies under Debbie’s guidance. She says the relationship has been a great success. It enables the two firms to enjoy the synergy of their talent, creativity, and innovation, and to expand services, support, and results for their clients. They also benefit from economies of scale in their business operations.

Partnerships: A Vital Resource in Federal Contracting.

A key element in a successful federal business strategy is partnerships. When it’s time to bid on a project, it’s essential to be able to quickly assemble the team members needed to do the work. That requires having standing relationships with proven partners that you can count on to win the business and service the client over the long haul.

And that means more than just having confidence in the quality of a partner’s work; it means having confidence in the character of the partner. Debbie notes that one partner will often sub on another partner’s prime contract, then later they reverse the roles: the prime becomes the sub on a different contract. Such flexibility and willingness to do what’s best for the project and the client requires a level of trust and confidence that only comes from an enduring and committed relationship.

Debbie observes that some contractors engage their partners in a transactional way, seeing their worth only for the value they offer a project at that moment. That isn’t how MarCom Group and LMD work, she maintains: “Instead, we want to build deep and long-lasting relationships with reputable firms with the same commitment to quality and service we have.” That mutual loyalty and shared devotion to excellence results in greater performance for their clients and – not coincidentally – greater success for the two firms.

A Bright Future Ahead.

Federal spending is subject to political as well as economic forces. Unexpected crises like the global COVID pandemic compound the turbulence. Those are just some of the many difficulties that every government contractor faces in managing their day-to-day operations and their long-range planning.

That said, the future appears promising for the two women-owned-and-led enterprises under Debbie’s purview. Both MarCom Group and LMD benefit from the values they share in common, instilled and maintained by their respective leadership teams. With Debbie as their nexus, the firms can look forward to continued success in the challenging and rewarding field of federal marketing and communications.


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.