BUSINESS

Worn out by the women of BrandLinkDC

Barbara Martin and Jayne Sandman never stop working, not even during a blowout.

It is 8:30 a.m., and Jayne Sandman is kicking my ass.

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I’m not the only one getting thrashed; when the other tennis-mom types at the gleaming Bethesda Equinox gym begin to flag in our kickboxing class, cheating on their kicks and flailing instead of jabbing, Sandman, who in her pert ponytail looks like the flyer on a high school cheer squad, hooks at full capacity. She uppercuts with purpose. Her sidekicks fly six inches higher than mine.

When Sandman and Barbara Martin, the women behind D.C.’s powerful PR firm BrandLinkDC, agreed to let me trail them for a day, I wasn’t expecting a morning cardio session spent trying to keep up with a woman who gave birth 10 months ago. When the class mercifully ends, I stumble after Sandman’s red, bobbing ponytail down to the locker room, where she slips into a blue second-skin of a dress and thigh-high black stiletto boots (to cover the “giant shiner” on her shin, she explains). It’s not yet 10 a.m.

Martin, Sandman’s business partner and friend of a decade, appears in the locker room in a brown shift and cardigan, sucking down coffee (“We don’t let Barb drink Red Bull,” Sandman says) and apologizing for her footwear (“Flats for the day, heels at night,” she explains).

She whisks us out of Equinox and into a waiting Mercedes. I stash my bag in the vacant Chicco car seat of Sandman’s son, Owen, and we take off down Wisconsin.

Martin and Sandman keep up a steady stream of shoptalk and girl talk while Martin checks email and Sandman applies concealer in the rear-view mirror. It’s going to be a busy day, with house calls to several clients and massive preparation for a book party for Simon Doonan at the W Hotel tonight.

“Two questions,” says Martin. “Well, maybe one question because I already forgot the first one.” She interrupts herself to point out a black dress in the window of a Friendship Heights store. “That dress would look great on you.”

“The Lanvin? Yeah, I’ll just visualize a waist.”

We cruise downtown to a parking garage next to One80 Salon, ignoring the sign indicating that the garage is full. “We’ll beg,” says Martin.

“Hi!” Sandman says sweetly to the attendant. “We just need one hour.” It works, and we’re out of the car and into the brushed-silver and orange-accented salon for their blowouts. Martin and Sandman disappear to the shampoo station.

The receptionist warmly greets Martin, who’s been handling PR for the salon for years. “I’ve only been here two months,” she says. “You learn about Barb very quickly.”

Under the blow dryer, Martin and Sandman type on laptops, the Skittles-sized diamonds on their ring fingers sparkling, while stylists work their hair. Sandman shows off some photos of Owen, and then they get to work.

“I’ll email him right now,” Martin says into her phone as her stylist manipulates her dark locks, plentiful enough for three heads, into a shiny curtain. “Awesome. Yay!”

Next to her Sandman talks through earbuds. “Music non-profits,” she says. “Think of dance.” She covers her eyes with her hands as her stylist spritzes her Little Mermaid-esque waves.

One of the stylists has a friend who’s trying to make something happen with a club, and she asks if the women ever work with club branding.

“No,” says Martin.

Minutes later, we’re back in the Mercedes and headed to the W Hotel. Sandman apologizes for any of Owen’s Cheerios that might be hiding in the backseat.

We valet the car and head up to tonight’s party room, the Altitude Ballroom, a giant mess of flowers, stems, frames, and equipment. Fresh-faced interns crawl on the floor, beheading carnations and pinning the blooms to tinsel-covered panels that will serve as the party’s décor. Martin wastes no time getting on the floor with the interns and decapitating flowers. Sandman does not. “She possesses a knack for crafts that I do not have,” she says.

It’s noon and six hours until party time. Sandman goes over details with Annie Perezchica, BrandLinkDC’s events director, for an hour while the bits and pieces scattered all over the ballroom turn into two bars, drink stations, and tables. Martin rushes over with palms up, bearing the wounds of her flower-ripping.

“Look at me,” she says. “Bleeding, bleeding bleeding.”

There’s no time for blood. It’s time, in fact, for a few house calls. “I need caffeine,” Sandman declares.

“Don’t give Barbara Red Bull, whatever you do,” Perezchica reminds her. We head to the Uber car waiting outside the hotel. (On the way out, Martin points out the stone statues in the lobby, saying she once ran right into one.)

First stop is Tiny Jewel Box on Connecticut, where the women need to pick out pieces for an upcoming issue of Capitol File. “We’ll want to push watches, of course,” says Martin, who snaps photos of jewels and Rolexes with her phone while Sandman chats up the staff, “because it’s the power issue.”

Ten minutes later, we’re back in the car and headed to Dupont. Sandman thumbs her phone while Martin takes a call. When it ends, she remarks on the futility of people bragging that they’ve been featured on a cable channel.

“It’s like, which one are you?” she says.

“Which one is she?” Sandman asks.

“They’re like, we’ve been on Oprah.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

They shake their heads.

After a quick caffeine stop at Starbucks, we go next door to Alton Lane, custom men’s clothier and another BrandLinkDC client. Michael Clements, executive editor of Washington Life, joins, along with Alton Lane proprietors Colin Hunter and Peyton Jenkins. Martin’s arranged a meeting between the Alton Lane guys and a friend from Flying Dog. Everyone gabs under the antler chandeliers that accent the manly Southern prep décor of the store.

Sandman never stops selling the client. “Aren’t they great?” she says to me. “Our jobs are so much easier because we have the best clients.” She, improbably, turns a conversation about the blood diamond trade in South Africa back to Alton Lane’s customized clothing. (“And that’s why custom is so great!”)

We exit, hail a cab on the circle, and the women dive into their inboxes. Sandman has just received the “most suck-up email ever,” and Martin’s got another message about a Valentine’s Day party for her oldest son’s class.

The other parents are volunteering to make homemade cookies. “I’ll maybe show up late and you’ll all hate me,” she says to the parents on the other end of her inbox.

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