You have it, or you don’t.
Nancy Marshall, the PR Maven® and CEO of Marshall Communications, has it. Connecticut-born, and a Mainer for more than four decades—she’s a Yankee powerhouse of city-girl grit, staunch country values, and go-getter vigor.
The lady’s got gumption—and a grin.
With her infectious laugh, bone-deep curiosity, hunger for people’s stories—and that grin—Nancy exudes vitality and makes friends wherever she goes. Whether listening intently to a client, skiing Sugarloaf, pitching a story, cycling to the Canadian border, enthusiastically networking, or growing Marshall Communications, she activates copious amounts of energy, fun, and joy—in herself and in others.
It takes gumption and a grin to be an entrepreneur like Nancy—to grow a PR firm from the setback of a layoff; to keep that firm infused with iconic Maine values while expanding globally; to build a huge Rolodex of who’s-who connections, each of whom will happily take her call; to keep going after a competitor wins the firm’s biggest client; to reengage that client with an even better contract; and to hire and retain a bench of brilliant and loyal experts.
That’s the kind of fire-in-the-belly determination and charisma we all wish we had, but often don’t.
That’s what makes Nancy—inveterate idea-maker and passionate people connector—so valuable to her clients. “I have passion, enthusiasm, love, and energy in my heart and soul,” she remarks, “and a lot of notions in my head. I have a hunger for great things to see and do, places to go, and people to meet. Most everyone I encounter senses that.”
Zig Ziglar said, “You will have everything you want in life if you just help others get what they want.” Nancy lives by that motto. When the idea for a story hits her, she searches her mental Rolodex, pitches the editor, and delivers the PR her clients don’t have the knowledge, confidence, or tenacity to get. She loves helping people; and people love Nancy.
An avid world traveler, Nancy has always been passionate about trains and the places they can take you—a legacy, perhaps, from a German station-agent great-grandfather. Some of her fondest memories are of riding the rails through Europe while spending her junior year of college in France. “That nine-month Eurail pass was freedom!” exclaims Nancy. “I felt like a kid in a candy store; I could go anywhere—and I did! I travelled alone and with friends. I visited relatives in Germany and travelled to countries all over Europe. It opened the world to me.”
Now she likes to imagine that she is the conductor on her clients’ train to success—giving them that same sense of wonder and opportunity.
Her energy powers a speeding train of ideas.
“We’re a one-stop-shop for action,” is a favorite Nancy refrain. “When I know a problem, I connect the dots immediately. I think: This is what we need to do, this is the staff we need, these are the resources to fold together to get underway fast and make it work. It’s all about urgency—and I’m the conductor.”
As their conductor, she does the tough things her clients don’t know how to do, pulls out the big stories they are too humble to talk about, and sells the heck out of them with an authenticity and charm that feels just right.
With her deep curiosity, adventurous spirit, and matchless Marshall Plan® collaboration process, she helps get them to their ideal destination. From the largest to the smallest client, she won’t rest until she’s sure they are in the best position to achieve their dreams. If she can’t elicit a “That’s awesome! You got it done! You made it happen!” when they reach their destination, she and her team aren’t done yet.
The Early Years
“Nancy, where did you get THAT notion?” is a common question. “You’re always thinking of things; you’re always thinking of something beyond what you are doing now; your mind is always so busy!”
As long as she can remember, Nancy’s been “notional,” instinctively connecting “what is” with “what can be” and running with it. As a girl in rural Bethany, Connecticut, she was always thinking of ways to make money—selling seeds and raffle tickets, babysitting, giving riding lessons, and more. Then, as today, she never did anything halfway.
She became the most popular babysitter in town when she created kits for her young charges, filled with coloring books, ingredients for cooking lessons, and pre-planned activities. In ninth-grade she negotiated the purchase of a horse and tack using her substantial babysitting kitty and then convinced her father to build her a barn.
As a teenaged camp counselor, Nancy founded the Go-Getters Club and persuaded her campers to join her in its main activity—a daily running plunge into an icy pond at dawn—and love it! Forty years later, the Go-Getters Club still exists, as does the frigid pond plunge.
She grew into a skilled bread kneader via another Nancy-notion—sculpting her brothers’ faces in dough and then punching it—a lot. Years later, this antidote to her roughhousing, arm-punching big brothers helped 16-year-old Nancy win the Connecticut State 4-H Bread Baking Championship!
Whether at home in Bethany, or at the family’s cottage in Maine on Damariscotta Lake, life had a rhythm. Her parents insisted on no TV on school nights, homework done at desks in their rooms, and dinner eaten together as a family. Looking back, Nancy credits this structure with giving her a safe space to daydream and become ever more creative.
At 17, Maine became Nancy’s permanent residence when her Dad was transferred to Augusta. Nancy finished high school at Hebron Academy, where she received The Good Fellowship award, and later taught French. She attended Waterville’s Colby College, majoring in French and competing on the swim team. She earned her MBA while pregnant, working full time, and travelling three hours round-trip to classes (on winter roads at night).
Year by year she deepened her love affair with Maine and the outdoors, eagerly engaging in endurance sports—trail riding, skiing, cycling, triathlon swimming, and more. Nancy always says she’s not the fastest, but she can go for a long time—a good parallel for business. In her 20s and 30s she was the life of the party, yet had a gritty determination to succeed that surprised the unsuspecting. Looking back Nancy says, “I had gumption. I was fun on the outside, with an inner iron will that drove me forward.”
After college life got really interesting, with, as for many, a circuitous route to success. Like the proverbial “Little Engine that Could” Nancy’s career kept chugging up the mountain. It started with Nancy’s hire at Maine Public Television after graduation; there she was able to try out several on- and off-camera positions.
A Career is Launched
It was at that Maine PBS station that Nancy formed a life-long friendship and public service partnership with Angus King, then future governor of Maine, and now Maine’s US senator. It was there that she worked as a production assistant for a PBS special on how to ski—a job that launched her career.
For Nancy, an accomplished skier and ski instructor (her favorite gig was teaching busloads of Brunswick Naval Air Station cadets how to snowplow) it was a perfect fit. Six weeks at Sugarloaf setting up interviews with show guests and carrying equipment around the slopes was a dream job for this 24-year-old!
She loved the work and the resort so much that she started looking for a permanent position at Sugarloaf, and was hired as the marketing department’s assistant communications director.
A fluent French linguist, Nancy was sent to attend ski shows in Quebec, establishing relationships with tour operators, travel agents, and ski shop owners—a veritable Sugarloaf ambassador in French Canada.
Yet, with big dreams and a small budget, the resort needed more—a plan to pull off an array of profitable marketing stunts with little expenditure. Enter Communications Director and PR guru Chip Carey, ably assisted by Nancy.
Imagine having no budget to travel to New York City to pitch ski writers; but you go anyway. You stay with friends; you save on cabs by jogging alongside marathon runner Chip; you stalk ski writers by waiting in the ladies room of the big ski magazines and introducing yourself as “Nancy from Sugarloaf” while washing your hands and talking about the great skiing in Maine.
Sound crazy? Nancy met several ski writers that way and invited them to Maine to experience Sugarloaf resort. That’s guerilla marketing with gumption!
Marshall Communications is Born
Here’s more gumption: After working at Sugarloaf for seven years, Nancy was downsized with just two weeks notice and a request that she immediately start her own agency and work for Sugarloaf on retainer. Despite the hurt, Nancy believes it was the best thing that ever happened to her.
Marshall Communications was born that day in 1991, in Nancy’s A-frame house on the Carrabassett River, in a basement office quickly outfitted with desk, phone, Rolodex, and her big old IBM computer. “Twenty-five years later, that memory of surprise, hurt, adrenalin, and gumption,” explains Nancy, “is still like a snapshot that keeps me—and the Marshall Communications team—firmly grounded in our roots.”
Throughout those 25 years, Nancy experienced the same joys, challenges, and juggling of many entrepreneurs—she married, raised two great children, and kept building her business. She says, “It took a village, and my mom, to make that happen; I’m forever grateful!”
In fact, Nancy credits her mother (a former pre-school teacher), with teaching her that she’d always look smart if she asked people numerous questions about themselves. Naturally curious, Nancy found that this was easy to do, and do often. She observes, “If you haven’t noticed, people love talking about themselves! Ask; then listen!”
This passion for people’s stories helped Nancy build Marshall Communications, and it’s one of the reasons she recently became Maine’s first and only Certified Personal Brand Strategist. It’s also the genesis of her proprietary Marshall Plan®—a 60-point process that helps clients quickly uncover their authentic stories, values, and PR goals.
For Nancy, the table-stakes for any business relationship are trust and attitude.
She’s built Marshall on this premise: “Do what you say you will do, be on time, and promptly return phone calls and emails. Business is not hard when you show up with a smile on your face, a willing attitude, a can-do spirit, and integrity.”
Nancy and Marshall Communications Today
Today, Marshall Communications has 14 employees; each of whom Nancy says has as much grit as she does! Marshall’s international marketing extends to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia, with clients ranging from the State of Maine, Discover New England, and other tourism entities like Maine Huts & Trails; to a small cider mill in Vermont; to municipalities, businesses and nonprofits. Many clients and staff have been with the firm for years.
It seems a local agency with global reach is a good thing for Maine. Not too long ago, the State of Maine had a brief fling with a New York agency, but soon boomeranged back to Marshall Communications—in part because employees had a tough time pronouncing many of Maine’s colorful town names, like Wytopitlock, Passadumkeag, and even Bangor!
Nancy loves the diversity and stimulation of her work. She’s never happier than when discovering and sharing her clients’ stories, and using them to help them achieve their goals. She says: “I just love business and learning about people’s businesses—the people behind the business—what makes them tick, how they market themselves, how they’ve grown to be who and what they are, where they want to go, and how I can conduct the train to help them get there.”
Nancy continues, “I see opportunity with nearly every business story I hear; I love exploring ideas for growing business and especially making connections for business owners with others I know who could help them. In fact, I’m incapable of NOT connecting people. I’ll call anyone, anytime, if I think it will help someone and produce value. That kind of building and sharing my network gets me really excited. And, it’s even better when they want to ride on my train! That’s awesome!
Nancy’s known for intuition and for following clues. This helps her aid her clients in many situations. After Superstorm Sandy, the Maine Children’s Home, a long-time client, was at Marshall Communications working on new PR plans. Nancy sensed a real sadness in the room and asked why the team was despondent. She learned that donations to the Home’s Christmas toy drive had dried up, as people turned to the needs of the storm-ravaged areas.
There were not enough toys to distribute, and the holidays were fast approaching. Nancy and team sprang into action with a roar: “Let’s not cry; let’s get going! Let’s transform the energy!”
They developed a plan and swiftly built a social media blitz that prompted a flood of donations that quickly filled the Home’s needs. And a new celebrity donor in California is still sending money, years later.
Nancy admires people who make the most of their lives, don’t waste time, and use their success in creative ways to make change without handouts.
From childhood she volunteered at Bethany’s library and as an adult, served as Chairman of the Board for her local library, successfully leading the charge for a new library building. She contributes to colleges, chaired the Board of Visitors at University of Maine at Farmington, and routinely goes the extra mile for her nonprofit clients, donating time and money when needed.
Right now she’s helping the Maine Seacoast Mission with a Marshall Plan® to help maintain the 45-foot boat and staff that bring needed supplies, medical care, internet (and coffee!) to Maine’s fishermen and island residents.
A hallmark of her agency is a commitment to experiencing and living clients’ business to understand and represent them best. When Nancy was working for Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort, an early client, she went through whitewater guide training and became a state-licensed whitewater rafting guide. To best represent the Maine Windjammer Association, she lived the life of a crewmember on the “Victory Chimes,” a 100-year-old, 170-foot windjammer.
She’s travelled the breadth of Maine, and knows it inside and out—Nancy has been to all the small towns, dined in the restaurants, skied the mountains, swum across the lakes, and paddled the freshwaters in canoes.
For no-boundaries-Nancy nothing fits neatly into 9 to 5. If there’s something important happening at 7 a.m. or 2 a.m., she’s there—it’s not work; it’s life. Nancy says, with energy and pride, “I don’t just wear pantyhose and heels. I’ll put on a wet suit, ski suit, hiking boots, or a bike helmet—whatever I need to get off the train and into back roads, waters, and towns.”
Carving out a new adventure, Nancy recently authored the book PR Works!, a real-world how-to guide to the best in traditional, guerilla, new media, and digital PR strategies.
Drew McLellan, CEO of the Agency Management Institute, says of PR Works!, “As PR has evolved with the addition of the digital world, Nancy has remained on the forefront—effortlessly folding the new media opportunities into her bag of tricks. Her decades of experience, connections, and smart business practices have truly earned her the title of PR Maven. Learning from Nancy is learning at the feet of the master.”
Never content with a single trajectory, Nancy is a social media power user (she loves connecting with people at all hours of the day and night!), a columnist for Mainebiz, a personal branding expert blogger at her PRMaven.com website, and a business and motivational speaker.
Who knows what’s next?
Years after founding Marshall Communications, Nancy, and then-governor Angus King, did a press tour, including a number of Manhattan desk-side visits where they pitched stories about Maine.
They travelled via limo, with Maine State Police security guards. Remembering her early Manhattan pitch days lurking in ladies’ rooms, Nancy’s Maine friends laugh that she went “from the outhouse to the penthouse!”
Nancy just smiles and says, “It was grit, gumption, and a grin that got us here!”
“When you start with a base of respect for humanity and the desire to find common ground with anyone; when your process releases clients from the fear of networking, bragging, and failure; when you deliver to them authentic confidence and success—and when you see your hard work, work, you just can’t help but grin!”
“And I grin a lot!”