WWPR Content Committee member, Florence Sumaray had an opportunity to connect with WWPR member, Emma Gresser to learn more about her role as External Communications Specialist at Fannie Mae and how she got involved with WWPR.
Tell me a little bit about your background and your current position at Fannie Mae.
After graduating from DePaul University with a Master of Arts in Public Relations and Advertising, I moved to Washington, D.C. to continue building my career in public relations and communications. I joined Fannie Mae’s Marketing & Communications team in July 2019 as an Internal Communications Specialist, and as of this week, I will be switching gears with my new role as External Communications Specialist. As Internal Communications Specialist, my work was driven toward developing and executing internal communications strategies to ensure employees understand how their work connects with the company’s mission and corporate priorities, feel engaged and informed by company leadership, and are recognized for their efforts. In my new role, I will be working with Fannie Mae’s Corporate Initiatives team to promote the incredible work of our company and communicate industry insights from our brilliant leaders.
How has COVID-19 affected the way your organization functions and your interaction with your clients?
Very early in the pandemic, Fannie Mae transitioned seamlessly from working in the office to working remotely. Our business is complex and has many moving parts, which made the transition that much more impressive. The leaders on our Management Committee have always put our employees first and continue to support them every day in our new virtual environment.
The Internal Communications team played a major role in making the remote work switch happen. Particularly with my client, we were responsible for making sure our business was engaged and our business leaders had the tools they needed to communicate with their employees. It was a challenge to move all in-person events, such as our Single-Family Town Hall, to a virtual setting but with the help from the entire Marketing & Communications organization, our employees were equipped with virtual platforms that made communications effective, straightforward, and engaging.
How has the PR industry changed in the last five years and what are you doing differently that seems to work in your industry?
This is one of the most important times in history to be a communicator. Organizations are expected to make a commitment to the communities they serve, and this has become a very important lens through which PR efforts happen today. Consumers want to hold organizations accountable for their actions. This is where PR practitioners come into play. Top-level executives are looking to their PR teams as trusted advisors. We are smart, know the business, and think about what the next move will be before it happens. We are also considering the role of activism in our work. The USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations did a fantastic study on this in their “Trends and Best Practices in Brand Purpose Communication” report and program director Fred Cook hosts the #PRFuture podcast. I think this is an important trend to study and act on as it will make your work stand out in your industry.
Why did you join WWPR, how has the experience been and what advice would you give to someone wanting to join the organization?
I believe communicators have a responsibility to be involved in their community. Our interest can gauge the pulse of a community and use those insights to greatly improve an organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Throughout my time as a student and now as a professional, I have always been engaged with organizations focused on empowering students, women, the LGBTQ community, and advocates of the arts. Stepping out of your comfort zone is more attainable with others supporting you.
As a woman in Washington’s public relations community, WWPR seemed like a natural fit. But what drove me to the organization was their commitment to “provide leadership opportunities, professional development, mentorship, and industry networking.” WWPR brings together a unique group of public relations practitioners and encourages us to learn from each other. We have such an impressive group of smart and successful women who want to inspire each other and equip the next generation of PR leaders. If you have any questions about WWPR or would like to reach out to me to learn more, I am always happy to chat.
During this time, was there any hobby you picked up or spent more time doing that you have enjoyed?
I’ve enjoyed finding time to connect with former colleagues and friends. Between snail mail and FaceTime, I always prioritize staying in touch with my personal “board of directors.” One of my good friends from my PR community in Chicago told me about this idea. What is a personal board of directors? It’s anyone that you consider to be a close friend, former colleague, or trusted mentor that could weigh in on career decisions, professional development, or life advice. I’ve built my board of directors over time, and I hope it will continue to grow.
What are some of your favorite things to do in the DMV area and how have you adjusted since COVID-19?
Since I don’t have a car, I walk just about everywhere! Washington, D.C. is one of the most walkable cities I’ve lived in. I love visiting the different neighborhoods the DMV area has to offer. Each spot has its own charm and history. My go-to for ideas is always the Washingtonian Magazine’s “Things To Do” and “Neighborhoods” sections. Sometimes I wander without a plan and find the coolest coffee shops and boutiques; and add them to my D.C. bucket list! If it’s a busy day, I can usually clock in over a half marathon in miles. So much to do, so much to see! (All with a mask on, of course).