by Jamie Carter-Logan, Dustyn Bailey, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
Those who know Nancy Marshall know that she thrives on making connections with others.
In her more than 35 years in the world of public relations, Marshall has developed relationships with leaders from a variety of industries, such as tourism and outdoor recreation. But one of the first professional connections she made turned out to be a prominent Mainer.
Angus King was not yet Governor or Senator, but his words of support helped Marshall to get her public relations firm off the ground. The two became friends when Marshall worked in public relations for WCBB, before the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin station merged with Maine Public. At the Lewiston-based station, also known as Channel 10, she found herself working on the public affairs show hosted by King.
While she enjoyed the job at WCBB, another opportunity would soon appear that Marshall could not pass up — one that eventually led to the decision to heed King’s words and open up her own firm.
Opportunity has knocked for Marshall several times over the years. Her knack for networking has helped pave a path to success well beyond the scope of her liberal arts studies at Colby College. Today, she continues to succeed thanks to her fierce independence and expert resourcefulness — the same traits that have helped earned her the trademarked title of “The PR Maven.”
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Marshall juggled several different jobs after graduating from Colby. She returned to her alma mater, Hebron Academy, to teach French and serve as a dorm parent, while also maintaining some of her duties at Channel 10. She also taught skiing at Lost Valley and worked as a lifeguard at the YWCA, all to pay the rent on her apartment and her monthly car payments.
While wearing all of these different hats, Marshall spotted the opportunity that would change the course of her career forever.
As a skier, she loved Sugarloaf, and while working with WCBB, she had been given the chance to work with a TV show’s production crew on the mountain. To her delight, she eventually learned that a public relations job was opening up at the mountain, and immediately knew she had to apply. It was a competitive job, and she was only two years out of college, but Marshall had the right mix of experience.
At 24 years old, she landed the job. Living in a condo on the mountain, working for Sugarloaf, Marshall says she felt like she had hit the jackpot.
While in the role, Marshall was in charge of distributing press releases and building brand awareness for the mountain. Part of that involved learning about how to most efficiently and effectively segment media lists.
For those unfamiliar with segmenting, today’s technology has made the process a lot simpler. But in the 1980s, Marshall and her team basically had to create thousands of computer codes in a program called dBase III+, and then manually stuff press releases into envelopes for mailing. Marshall enlisted an army of helpers for this task, paying them in a currency not as valuable as cash, but appreciated all the same: beer.
Her duties extended well beyond preparing press releases, though. Marshall was even in charge of giving ski reports on camera for the local closed circuit TV station — plus filming and handling the audio for the reports herself.
It was during her time at Sugarloaf that Marshall was able to launch some of her own ideas into action. Among her successes, she successfully pitched a story to four meteorologists from the Boston area, chartering a small plane to fly them up for a day of skiing, and showing them that there really was snow on Sugarloaf even though there was not yet any in the Boston area. Her efforts resulted in four on-air reports on the incredible ski conditions that exist early in the season up north.
However, the meteorologists almost did not make it back to Boston to complete the report. Their plane seemed to be heading straight into the Bigelow Mountain Range after take-off. Marshall watched as the plane looked like it was going to crash, and she feared that the worst would happen. Thankfully, it did not, and Marshall successfully helped Sugarloaf gain valuable exposure outside of Maine.
“I was a gritty person already…I might not always be the best at everything, but I’m willing to try anything to be competitive in my field,” Marshall says of her overall experience at Sugarloaf.
“As a woman, I hate to say it, but you always had to work a little harder to be treated with respect and that was important to me. I was career-oriented. I wasn’t just there as a ski bum,” she adds.
As much as Marshall enjoyed Sugarloaf, and as successful as she was there, budget issues forced the mountain to eliminate her position in 1991. While Marshall was upset at losing the ideal job, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
With a strong resume, and a key reference in Sen. King, Marshall was able to parlay her love of personal branding, marketing, social connections and the Maine outdoors to launch her own firm. Nancy Marshall Communications was born — with Sugarloaf as her first client.
It should not come as much of a shock to learn that her second client after the mountain was Northern Outdoors, a year-round recreation and adventure resort in The Forks, where she earned her Maine Guide’s license in order to better represent the company. Early on, Marshall also worked to promote the Victory Chimes, the only original three-masted schooner in the Maine Windjammer fleet.
The entrepreneurial spirit that helped her to jumpstart Nancy Marshall Communications was not new. In fact, her father recognized that she was destined for success when she was just a teenager.
Marshall’s dad worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and would bring her to events. He would have her write up press releases and feature stories, and then pitch them to the national corporate publication for his company. By her teens, she could tout that she had successfully placed stories for a large national corporation.
Earlier in her teen years, Marshall also started her own babysitting business. She was in demand early on in the venture as she had come up with a characteristically creative angle to help her land customers. She brought individualized toy and activity kits with her to the various jobs, and the kids loved them.
Now, she puts that kind of creative mindset to work for every one of her clients. Similar to her popular personalized kits, each client of Marshall’s receives their own fully-customized marketing plan, or “Marshall Plan.”
Marshall’s realized early on that within a marketing and publicity campaign there are so many moving pieces and creative ideas that it can be difficult to reach benchmarks if they are not defined. The strategy has worked, and in the last 25 years, Marshall’s firm has grown by leaps and bounds. Her client list now includes the Office of Maine Tourism and Orvis, a national, high-end fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods retailer.
She attributes landing Orvis to her natural inclination for social connection along with her affinity for the outdoors. She and an Orvis executive began talking about fishing, one thing led to another, and Marshall’s agency was hired to put together a PR plan for the company.
“It reinforces the idea that you never know what relationship is going to produce a success story like that,” says Marshall.
Now 35 years in and firmly entrenched as a leading public relations figure in Maine, Marshall is focused on the future. She has shifted the branding of her company to become just Marshall Communications, giving it less of a focus on her, and a broader focus on the company’s own brand and the talented team she has helped assemble.
“Let’s all get in a boat together and row toward success,” is her attitude, and it has certainly paid off.
The company’s current president is Charlene Williams, who has been with Marshall since the late 1990s. But Marshall also has people on her team who are new to the business, and she enjoys mentoring them and watching their growth. It is these people who Marshall sees taking the company into the future, building on the brand and the firm’s success for decades to come.
Marshall has helped major Maine companies build their brand, and in-turn, has helped the state build a positive brand. She has expanded her business nationally, and is even recognized internationally in tourism circles. Creative and driven, Marshall has shown a true entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to mentor those who are just entering public relations. She turned her interests and passions into a lifelong career, and has shown that with enough drive, talent and creativity, it is possible to live the life you love.
That’s why Nancy Marshall is a Maine Icon.