WWPR Content Committee member, Florence Sumaray had an opportunity to connect with WWPR member, LeAnne DeFrancesco to learn more about her role as Vice President at Vanguard Communications and how she got involved with WWPR.
Tell me a little bit about your background and your current position at Vanguard Communications.
I was a journalism major at the University of Georgia and after a few jobs in DC, found my way to public relations. I lead Vanguard Communications’ Design and Editorial practice where I contribute to client campaigns, event production, corporate initiatives and business development. Working in a small firm like Vanguard means there is never a dull day! And I love that we focus exclusively on social change communications for some of the country’s most progressive organizations.
How has COVID-19 affected the way your organization functions and your interaction with your clients?
Vanguard got to test the remote work environment waters when our office space underwent a renovation in late 2019. We were back in our spot on K Street for about 6 weeks when the pandemic hit. While it has been hard to be away from co-workers, who are really like family, we were completely prepared to continue to thrive in this teleworking environment. I certainly miss doing the office jigsaw puzzle at lunchtime, but we have gotten really creative with our social activities to stay connected (Zoom trivia, Bingo, Quiplash…we even made a baby book related to travel for one of our colleagues who is due this month!). These activities have helped us maintain our organizational culture and stay healthy mentally.
From a work standpoint, I don’t think we’ve missed a beat. We are engaging with our clients and providing great customer service using virtual platforms and tools. People are still bringing the same passion and dedication to their jobs every day and the extended time at home seems to be translating into even more productivity, which I didn’t think was possible from our small but mighty team!
How has the PR industry changed in the last five years and what are you doing differently that seems to work in your industry?
Well obviously digital strategies have been transformative. Especially for our small clients, being able to reach audiences even with modest budgets is huge. Video is another area where we have been watching trends and building our internal competencies. We used to have to partner for most video work but now we can do a tremendous amount in-house. And of course Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Although this has gained traction in recent years, for our firm, it’s always been part of how we approach communications. We take it extremely seriously and lately have seen a major uptick in the number of organizations who need this type of strategic counsel. Personally, I have learned a lot from our DEI experts.
Why did you join WWPR, how has the experience been and what advice would you give to someone wanting to join the organization?
I joined because I wanted a slightly broader horizon. I wanted to meet people who had other kinds of PR expertise and other types of clients and challenges, and share ideas. Working as part of the Pro Bono Committee has been so gratifying. I have met wonderful women on the committee, and wonderful people in the organizations we support.
During this time, was there any hobby you picked up or spent more time doing that you have enjoyed?
I learned how to make homemade biscuits! As a southerner, this was huge for me. I got up early on Saturdays for about a month trying different recipes with my daughter, until we settled on a favorite and perfected our technique. (Using a cheese grater for the butter made all the difference.) Now I’m always on the lookout for markets that carry buttermilk. I also did my first Netflix binge: The Umbrella Academy. So good!
What are some of your favorite things to do in the DMV area and how have you adjusted since COVID-19?
A co-worker signed up for a nationwide miles challenge (run, walk, swim, bike) for the month of August and invited us to participate. 19 “Vanguardians” participated as a team and logged nearly 2,000 miles! I’m really proud of that. Now I’m trying to stay in the biking habit because it makes me feel stronger physically, and it helps reduce stress. I also discovered a wonderful author, Yangszee Choo. I read The Night Tiger first and am just digging into The Ghost Bride. Highly recommended for a little escape at the end of a hectic day.