by Frank Johnson


The smaller the business, the greater the influence a single person can have on its values and personality. Yet even an organization with many dozens of employees can reflect the sound principles of a leader who has stayed with the firm over its entire history.

MarCom Group Founder and President Debbie Rainford has much to be proud of in that respect. Her commitment to treating her clients like honored guests and employees like family has led to a nearly 30-year run of achievement and industry accolades.

“That’s a good feeling, to have gotten recognition from people in our industry,” she concedes. But such tributes aren’t as satisfying as having employees who’ve stayed with the firm for decades and clients and partners who consider themselves to be part of the MarCom Group family.

Investing in People Means Investing in Success

What garners such loyalty? It starts with caring for the agency’s staff holistically, investing in them as people as well as employees. The company focuses on enabling personal and professional growth while attracting and retaining a talented, diverse workforce that’s committed to customer success.

“We try to create an environment where people don’t feel like they’re just putting in a day’s work and then going home,” Debbie explains. “We work hard to foster a sense of meaning, of collaboration, of everyone meshing together. And we treat our people with compassion. When someone is going through a severe illness or a major life challenge, we do everything possible to make sure they’re taken care of until they’re through it. Company policies and rules are important, but people are more important. We always strive to do what’s right. Our employees know and appreciate that.”

Creating a supportive workplace also minimizes employee turnover, which can be chaotic for a small business and its clients. Debbie’s strategy is to find the best talent, who have the same passion for serving clients that she has, and then doing everything she can to keep them happy to minimize churn. That includes retaining personnel even when the contract they were working on has ended.

“We’ll keep them and find another project that’s suited for them,” she explains, which is different from the many contractors that shed personnel when their contract ends. “It shows our people that we’re invested in them and want them here, and it assures our clients of consistent service, that we aren’t constantly changing their team. I think that’s one reason our clients have told us that they feel like they’re part of our family.”

Leading by Example Produces Results

Debbie demonstrates her personal commitment to these values by leading by example, with a quiet confidence that assures her staff and clients that she’s never too far up the organization chart to assist. A case in point: as a Certified Meeting Planner (CMP), she knows the importance of getting every detail right at every function. And that often means rolling up her sleeves and helping out.

“When we’re onsite and I’m overseeing a meeting, I’m happy to get in there and do what I can, whether it’s making copies or arranging chairs or sweeping floors,” she contends. “Whatever is needed at the moment to help the team and to make the event a success.”

That pitch-in attitude harkens back to Debbie’s entrepreneurial roots, to the days when MarCom Group was small and hungry. “There were times in the early days that we struggled,” she recalls. “Cashflow was a challenge, just like for any small business. Making payroll is your number one priority – and, of course, when you’re the owner, you’re last in line. So it’s interesting to recall that we hired our first three full-time people back in 1999, just a few years after our founding, and now we’re up to over 60 employees.”

Like many founders, Debbie can compare and contrast her before-and-after-ownership life in the business world. “I really like not having a boss,” she observes these many years later. “Being a founder gives me a lot of freedom and flexibility with my decision-making. I appreciate that the choices I make can affect people’s lives, and I think I’ve made some good decisions that have gotten us where we are.” She’s quick to add, “I haven’t done all that on my own. I’m surrounded by smart and talented people who’ve helped to achieve all this.”

When asked how it feels to look back on her nearly three-decade run of growth and accomplishments, Debbie says, “I feel like a mom. By that I mean, you’ve made a long-term commitment to people you care about, people who are important to you, people you want to take care of – clients, partners and personnel alike. You have to take the big-picture, long-term view, and sometimes that means making hard choices. Everyone may not agree with all of them at first, but in time you hope the decisions and actions benefit everyone.”

Getting Personal

Debbie’s familial sentiments about her agency are also appropriate given her own family’s involvement with MarCom Group. Her husband, Bob, is the CEO, and both of her children work for the firm where her daughter is the vice president of the strategy, research, and analytics group, and her son is a production assistant.

In fact, it was her son’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes at 18 months that led to a series of events that eloquently illustrate Debbie’s penchant for nurturing. She took a sabbatical to care for him, which included giving him insulin injections up to four times each day. That experience inspired her to earn a Master’s in Nursing and work for three years as a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., while still remaining involved with the business.

Today, Debbie and her family enjoy spending their free time together whenever possible. Travel, dining, chili cookoffs and even Renaissance faires are favorite activities. Bob and Debbie also enjoy sailing their catamaran.

After decades of leading a woman-owned small business, Debbie still enjoys the satisfaction of delivering excellent service to clients and working closely with her employees. She’s gratified that, after so many years, MarCom Group continues to succeed through methodical growth and expansion. The prospects for continued achievements under her guidance look positive.


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.