Every month on our blog, we highlight a Communicator of the Month – someone who has used communications to better our world and improve people’s lives. Today, we are excited to shine a light on a second and particularly special Communicator of the Month: our president and CEO, Maria Rodriguez, in honor of her induction into the PRNEWS Hall of Fame on December 12.
When sharing the news of this honor with Maria, a PRNEWS editor wrote, “It’s not just that you founded Vanguard and filled a huge gap in communications and PR advocacy for social issues. It’s not just that you are an outstanding woman leader and executive and launched a tremendously successful agency …. it’s partly all that, but mostly that you are clearly striving — both through personal and professional efforts — to make the world a better place.”
We couldn’t agree more.
It’s quite humbling for many of us here to think that at just age 27, a time when most of us were embarking on perhaps our second or third job out of college, Maria was going “all in” by co-founding Vanguard with her mentor. What is even more impressive is the reason she took this big risk: She simply couldn’t choose just one issue to which she wanted to devote her time and talent. In 1987, the business model of supporting only nonprofit, association and government clients simply wasn’t out there, so Maria and her business partner created it from scratch.
Today, Maria is the sole owner and president of our award-winning firm. She leads our team of communicators working to advance change in public health, mental health, education, diversity and inclusion, environmental protection, and sustainable agriculture, always with a focus on communicating with and about diverse and underrepresented audiences — from low-literacy populations to tribal youth, non-English-speaking populations, LGBTQ individuals and those in rural areas.
As the business has flourished, Maria has found other ways to support the greater DC area and give back to causes and organizations that mean something to her personally.
To celebrate Vanguard’s 30th anniversary in 2017, she established the Comunicadores for the Future program with the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at her alma mater, The George Washington University. Conceived to bring more diversity to the PR and communications field, the Comunicadores program matches first-generation Latinx students with high-profile nonprofit organizations for paid summer internships that will fuel their future careers and personal growth — an opportunity that can prove so valuable for young scholars who may want to enter the field.
Maria also shares her expertise and perspectives by serving as the board chair of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and participating on the board of Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital. She shows her commitment to improving health outcomes for underrepresented populations through her work on the Corporate Advisory Council for La Clínica del Pueblo, a bilingual, bicultural community health center in Washington, DC. She also is a member of the National Press Club and the Leadership Greater Washington Class of 2020.
Numerous organizations over the years have recognized Maria’s commitment to her work and to the DC community and beyond, such as when the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter inducted her into its Public Relations Hall of Fame in 2016. Maria’s leadership and passion also helped Vanguard become the first Hispanic woman-owned firm to earn the highly coveted PRWeek Agency of the Year Award in 2003, one of the highest accolades in the industry. That same year, Hispanic magazine named her its Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
All of these honors are well-earned recognition of someone we see roll up her sleeves every day to do the important work of issue-based PR and communications, while making time to support several nonprofit organizations across our area.
Clearly, Maria’s impact is felt way beyond Vanguard’s offices, and we are so gratified that PRNEWS sees all of the passion and dedication that we have observed for years. Congratulations, Maria!