‘We Love Helping Brands Tell Their Story’
Jayne Sandman says yes to everything. Barbara Martin believes in the power of no.
For the co-owners of The Brand Guild—a 30-person company with offices in Georgetown and New York—the answer is always in the middle.
‘It’s our joke, but it’s important to have someone who can come at things from a different angle than you,’ Jayne says. ‘We’re very different.’
‘I’m very today, and Jayne thinks nine steps ahead,’ Barbara adds. ‘She knows everyone. It’s like going to dinner with the Mayor. It exhausts me and gives her energy. It’s a good match.’
Their public relations, marketing, events and creative agency was born nine years ago after Barbara and Jayne met at a charity event—the only two working on the District Sample Sale who didn’t know one another.
At the time, Jayne was on the marketing and events arm for Capitol File Magazine, and Barbara had established herself as the corporate marketing director at Nielsen Business Media. The charity event served as a test drive for a more permanent partnership.
‘It wasn’t this theoretical of, ‘Oh, I like you at a cocktail party.’ Our skills seemed to match up and we realized we’d each be a check for the other,’ Jayne says. ‘We created The Brand Guild out of a joint desire to form an agency that really met all the clients’ needs but was staffed by experts in each field. Each expertise requires a very different brain.’
Barbara and Jayne were always confident in the work itself, but experienced the steep learning curve of running a business—networking with other neighborhood entrepreneurs who offered operational insights.
Their first client was the W Hotel—arguably the biggest DC hotel opening in decades.
‘We were very, very lucky they put their trust in us,’ Barbara says. ‘We could start at run speed.’
Five years ago, The Brand Guild moved the business to Georgetown—no coincidence, they say, that it coincided with all of their growth. Since then, the team has expanded exponentially—each ‘leapfrog’ benchmark presenting its own set of challenges and new opportunities to explore.
With digital and social media marketing evolving every second, Jayne says it’s imperative for her staff to constantly sharpen their skills.
‘There are so many tools in the toolkit, and there’s no silver bullet anymore. No Oprah show, no one thing a quarter of America is going to watch or read anymore. It doesn’t exist. What we do now has to be the perfectly crafted story and pitch, combined with really smart marketing, combined with digital amplification, combined with an in-person event that brings it all to life and turns your customers into loyalists. It takes all of those things right now to break through, and the smart brands are doing it. What’s really great is we have that all in one room.’
Although technology has made it easier to do the research behind a great pitch, Barbara says she still champions an old-school approach when it comes to media.
‘The best stories come from really thoughtful approaches to our client, and relationships. I’m out there all the time imploring people to pick up the damn phone. They can’t do enough of that. At the end of the day, if you can walk out of the office and meet a reporter for lunch, that’s ideal. There will always be a home for a great story, but there are just far fewer outlets.’
Today’s news cycle is 24/7, yet Jayne says the vast majority of The Brand Guild’s work is on thoughtful campaigns. A 4 a.m. crisis is the exception, not the rule.
‘Everyone we hire has hustle and curiosity inside of them—and they’re interesting people who have hobbies and lives and kids,’ Jayne says. ‘We try to have that balance.’
Through nearly a decade of work, Barbara and Jayne say it’s impossible to pick their favorite campaign or client, but are generally most drawn to the ‘challenger, start-up brands’ who are shaking up the status quo.
‘We love the idea of getting in there with rapidly scaling brands and helping them tell that story in ways that actually effect business,’ Jayne says. ‘The Framebridge’s and Bluemercury’s. What’s exciting is there will always be brands founding a new category.’
Most recently, Barbara says they were inspired by their work with Room & Board. The brand partnered with National Forest Service and a group of non-profits that trained people just released from jail to tear down condemned homes in Baltimore and salvage the valuable, historic wood to be repurposed for a line of furniture.
‘We were in the initial meetings, shaping how the project would look, all the way to seeing it on the cover of USA Today. It was one of those stories that had true purpose and meaning.’
As they continue to seek projects that are equally fulfilling, Barbara and Jayne aim to amplify DC’s role among the country’s greatest cities.
‘DC is full of incredibly interesting people, and it’s probably the thing for which it doesn’t get enough credit,’ Jayne says. ‘It really excites our team to tell the DC story. We have an amazing creative community and a blossoming tech community. We’re often thought of as this government town, and Georgetown alone is proof that we’re more.’