Thinking strategically is the name of the game for Paxson Fay cofounders Amy Golden and Tessa Andrews Franchini. The pair, who met while attending New York’s Fordham University, launched their Seattle-based communications agency to elevate brands in the architecture and design industry. “There’s a lot of great design in this city and we wanted to bring that to the forefront at a national level for small- and medium-sized brands,” Golden says.
Their client list includes Signal Architecture + Research, SHED Architecture & Design, custom lighting creator LightArt, 3form, and metal fabricator Móz Designs, among others in the design and product manufacturing industries. GRAY spent a little (virtual) time with the founders to learn more about the firm’s holistic approach, its women-focused initiatives, and why they just don’t do PR.
When did you found Paxson Fay? And why did you decide to start your own firm?
Amy Golden: We officially founded Paxson Fay in 2015, but we had started to build our client base a couple of years before that. We had been working with [material manufacturer] 3form and LightArt for years prior to that—Tessa [Andrews Franchini] was a marketing manager at 3form for several years after college then continued on in a freelance capacity—so that was the starting point into the architecture and design world. I was on the television advertising side at CNN and the Hallmark Channel, then ended up back in Seattle, which is where I’m from, for grad school. Serendipitously, Tessa was moving here as well with her now-husband to explore a new place. So we reconnected out here [the two attended Fordham University together] and in 2015, we saw that there was a major need in Seattle for communication services in architecture and design. There’s a lot of great design in this city and we wanted to bring that to the forefront at a national level for small- and medium-sized brands. We wanted to help these smaller brands get their names out there with more than just traditional PR. We became an internal marketing arm for these brands with a well-rounded approach and a lot of experience from our previous jobs.
Paxson Fay is a woman-owned company. Are there any women-focused initiatives, organizations, etc. that you’re involved in?
AG: Being a woman-owned business has always been a big part of our brand. It’s ingrained in our brand. Paxson Fay is actually named after two women that aren’t us.
I had no idea! Who is it named after then?
AG: Fay Fuller was the first woman to summit Mount Rainier, and she did it in a skirt. We love the outdoors. We love nature so we felt that represented half of our business really well, not to mention the leadership, determination, and drive to do something like that. Ethel Paxson was a landscape painter so we tried to marry our love for the arts and design as well as the outdoors and female leaders doing badass things. So that’s a big piece of our brand.
So back to women-focused initiatives…
AG: We try to seek out women-owned businesses to work with. We try to help other women elevate their brands because it’s so important to help each other. We try to hire female employees and contractors. This is where we can make the biggest difference by lifting each other especially in architecture and manufacturing, both industries that have traditionally been led by men. We’re members of Lean In Seattle, the Female Founder Collective, Girlboss, and we recently gave a talk at Ladies Wine & Design at Wunderman Thompson. This year has obviously been a little different, but we always make it a goal of ours to get involved with something centered around women.
Describe your approach to working with clients.
Tessa Andrews Franchini: One thing that was really nice about starting a communications agency and coming into this from full-time, in-house positions is that as in-house team players we worked with a lot of outside contractors. At 3form I hired out PR firms, and they all did a great job, but I think it helped to inform what Amy and I thought a communications agency needed to be. I think one of the most crucial pieces in our approach to working with clients is that we really want to stay boutique-sized. We have a specific way we like to work with clients, wherein we become a part of their team and they become a part of our team. We like to keep our client list small so we can maintain those relationships. Instead of just executing on a strategy that’s already been decided, we come in on the front end of things, join their team and start to think more strategically—mapping out content, generating new ideas and integrating ourselves so that we can holistically understand their marketing goals and how our communication efforts can serve those goals. We love collaborating with clients on social media campaigns, new product launches, direct marketing programs. We don’t do just PR.
Let’s talk about one or two projects that were particularly meaningful or presented a challenge for you as a company.
TAF: It was hard for us to narrow it down to just two. For years, we have represented [furniture designer and maker] Kate Duncan’s design fair ADDRESS Assembly. Duncan has really emphasized minority and LGBTQ makers and worked to help bring their work to the forefront. And then there’s Hightower: a woman-owned furniture manufacturer based in Seattle. Hightower opened a showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for NeoCon and it hired [Portland interior designer] Casey Keasler to design its showroom. Casey and Hightower designed a showroom that featured so much more than just products. They found female manufacturers and designers to feature in the space. Everything from little ceramic pieces hung on the wall to countertops from Concrete Collaborative. We got to do all the PR for the opening. And being able to tell those stories, it was so meaningful to us.
What has been one of your proudest achievements as a firm?
TAF: We started this business in our living rooms. We worked so hard to build and curate our client list that it was a really big deal to be able to hire contractors and offer guidance in the form of sharing our mistakes. Over the last two years, we’ve been able to make some full-time hires. We’ve helped more than twenty brands to tell their stories, show their products, and stay in front of the national and international design and consumer worlds. And that’s been really special to us, especially since some of those brands are Seattle-based and we’ve been able to get some of those stories into national and international media. Seattle has a lot of great design to offer beyond the big Seattle names that everyone has known for so long.
AG: I feel like Seattle has been this underrated design community for so long and there’s so much talent here. Our ability to take some of these architecture firms that are doing a vast amount of work and lift them up to be seen at a national level has been huge and helped us make a name for ourselves.
What’s next for Paxson Fay?
AG: We’re looking to branch out to other cities, such as Portland or Vancouver, and try to help other firms get their names out there.
TAF: Amy and I have developed a lot of contacts and so now we are looking to branch out a little more into different industries, though ones that are similar creative industries to architecture and design. Looking at diverse leadership is what we’re doing right now. And we have a responsibility to elevate the names of designers and manufacturers who represent a more diverse group of leaders.
[Editor’s Note: Paxson Fay provides its communication and public relations services to GRAY.]