About The Family Knife

We help businesses and organizations take control of their marketing, measure its effectiveness, and improve every day—with the team and resources they already have. We fit between a traditional business consultant and a full scale marketing agency—empowering you and your team to find creative solutions to your unique challenges, and implement work that will work.

The Family Knife is led by Joel Kelly and Leah Sanford.



Leah Sanford
Vice President, Communications & IMPLEMENTATION

Leah leads the operations for The Family Knife and project implementation for our clients.

Her background in public relations and community engagement helps our clients implement tactics that succeed and get the right kind of attention and sustained traction.

Leah's extensive experience executing complex plans and events, in large organizations with thousands of employees and small companies with limited resources, helps our clients confidently put plans into action and get more things done.

Leah Sanford on LinkedIn

Joel Kelly
President, Marketing & Strategy

Joel leads the marketing and strategy for The Family Knife and strategy and planning for our clients.

His background in marketing, copywriting, and leadership and management helps our clients create marketing that works and marketing teams that succeed.

Joel's experience in senior management, having built teams with dozens of direct reports, helps our clients upgrade their teams' skills and abilities and make daily improvements and achieve long term results.

Joel Kelly on LinkedIn




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Joel and Leah have different perspectives on the name of the company, each reflecting their approach to marketing and communications. What is most interesting, is both are right—it’s simply a matter of perspective.

Joel’s version of The Family Knife origin:

When pirates would roam the Caribbean in the 18th century, they'd often be out at sea, far away from a safe port, and need to repair their ship. They'd “careen,” or lean their ships up against sandbars, sloping beaches, or even ships captured just for this purpose. Here, far from home, they'd scrape, repair, and replace planks and masts and sails. And they'd keep sailing.

In those days, it wasn't about who had the biggest budget, or the best safe harbor, or the most advanced technology. It was about who had the best crew, who could make the best decisions on the fly, and who could improve, adapt, and adjust while constantly in motion.

Out at sea, the most successful sailors were the ones who could keep moving. They traveled around the globe that way, with no permanent home. They took on two empires that way, with no safe harbor. 

And so we thought, isn't that a lot like marketing today? You rarely have the time or budget you want, but you know that as long as you keep moving, you can succeed. You know it's not about one big campaign, it's about doing the daily work to keep the ship moving ahead.

There's an old paradox by Plutarch called “The Ship of Theseus.” It imagines the ancient Greek hero Theseus' ship surviving for generations, being repaired and replaced, one plank at a time. Like marketing today, it's improved, adapted, and refined piece by piece until it's totally different from where it started, but somehow still following the right course.

The paradox asks, if the ship has been replaced one plank at a time, until no original pieces remain, is it still the same ship?

That paradox has been repeated and revised over the millennia since Plutarch's day, often as “Abe Lincoln's Ax,” or “Grandfather's Ax” (if you replace the head of an ax one year, and the handle a decade later, is it still the same ax?).

And, our favorite, “The Family Knife.”

Leah’s perspective on that same paradox:

Theseus’s ship was known far and wide as the fastest in the Mediterranean. His crew, the most skilled, his leadership unquestioned. To be part of Theseus’s Ship, that was the mark of a great sailor and warrior.

Yes, the ship itself was ideal—maintained, cared for, refined. But the crew was the true heart of the operation.

As crew changed over the years, as the ship itself was passed down, the paradox of the ship emerged, but the symbolism remained strong. Because the skills onboard stayed sharp, the understanding of the sea and the ship stayed strong. Leadership innovated, challenged and pushed the crew, they put their stamp on the ship, but leveraged the mythology of The Ship of Theseus to their advantage.

That’s a lot like today’s marketing world. Teams change every few years, new ideas and approaches and developed and explored. Leadership can change and often with it comes sweeping changes as a new face puts their stamp on things. But we can learn from Theseus and his mighty ship, and the generations to come after him: build the team, build the culture, build the spirit and if you keep that strong, you can thrive in the rough seas as the world changes.




We work with a variety of trusted partners to help our customers do more effective marketing. Here are the people that we trust with our business: