Judith Mackin doesn't tend to confine herself to a single project. Her clients in Saint John know that, having enlisted her for more than a decade for marketing, event planning and interior design through her companies Punch Productions and Punch Inside.
But in 2011, as she prepared to launch her third company, she wondered: Was she hiding behind her own brands?
People prefer to connect, after all, with other people, not faceless businesses. It's a simple concept, and one Ms. Mackin had shared with her own marketing clients. But when Jeff Roach, a friend and social media consultant, suggested Ms. Mackin be the face of her own hard work, she was reluctant.
"I was super uncomfortable with that," Ms. Mackin, 45, says. "Who am I? Ellen? Oprah? ... But I'm telling you, the difference was unbelievable."
Becoming her own brand paid off. In the year after she put the focus on herself, the combined revenue from her three businesses – including her new design studio, Tuck – doubled. People recognized Ms. Mackin through her dizzying array of projects and then commissioned her for their own.
Her turning point was born out of a frustration with social media, says Mr. Roach, who is the founder of Sociallogical, a digital-engagement firm. But it quickly turned into a refocused marketing plan that broke down the walls between Ms. Mackin's companies.
"She didn't know how to unify the brand," Mr. Roach says. "By putting herself up in front – a smart thing for any business to do – she was able to build relationships."
He helped rebrand Ms. Mackin as "a curator of people, rooms and ideas," she says. At roughly the same time, she also began writing about design for the local newspaper, the Telegraph-Journal, and HGTV.ca, giving her exposure at home and across Canada.
A longtime entrepreneur with a taste for publishing – she started Punch Productions in 2000, the same year she co-founded the Saint John alt-weekly Here Magazine – Ms. Mackin now uses social media to boost her image as a magnet for culture and design. She also shows off her projects in real time. The most prominent of these has been Into the Wild, the construction of Tuck Studio and her new home: a 3,600-square-foot modern house on 2.3 acres of undeveloped land on a hill overlooking the historical port city.
"I took people on the journey through social media, so that when we actually launched and opened, people felt proud of it," Ms. Mackin says of the project. "They already felt ownership and part of it, because they were following on Twitter, they had joined the Facebook page. That kind of sociability is immeasurable."
Ms. Mackin's branding strategy has resonated locally and across the Maritime provinces, says Allan Gates, co-founder of Bonfire, a Saint John communications and marketing agency. She has become a symbol of style and sophistication for the region – "a thoughtful, creative professional who melds design and design-based thinking with events and marketing," he says.
The success of Tuck Studio reflects that. It injects contemporary urban design into the industrial city, housing a rotating showcase of local art and curated furnishings of Canadian and Scandinavian design.
You can find storage chairs from Amsterdam's Flux Furniture or reclaimed-wood chandeliers designed by Brothers Dressler of Toronto. It's often the first time these products have been accessible locally.
The studio has come as a welcome surprise to some.
"I thought there must have been a mistake," says Glenda Williams, who didn't believe the studio was in Saint John when she first stumbled upon it online. She had moved to the area from Los Angeles in 2011 after her husband, Chad, a gastroenterologist, found work in the city. The pair eventually visited the studio and picked up a "Love is Blind" vase designed by Toronto artist Jessica Marie Lertvilai for their newly renovated kitchen.
That's where Ms. Mackin, the brand, came into play. Recognizing her creative knack, Ms. Williams hired her to help design her new kitchen and family room.
"Once you meet her, she pulls you in with her personality," Ms. Williams says. "She's so easygoing and enthusiastic about what she does. Her brand is what she lives."