The Team

Vanguardians care about our work, our craft and making a difference. Meet our team.

Vanguard’s staff have done amazing things in their careers. Some started out in PR, while others arrived here from broadcast outlets, research organizations, community groups and nonprofit entities. We embrace our diverse backgrounds and experience because they make us more impactful, passionate communicators.

Allison Gross

Allison Gross

Associate Director

Allison is a dynamic project manager who has extensive experience in health communications and marketing. She provides senior counsel and strategy for communications campaigns and materials designed for diverse audiences, including health plan enrollees, providers and legislative audiences.

Certifications/Affiliations
• Digital Marketing Certificate
• Member, Society for Health Communication
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program

Allyson Singh

Allyson Singh

Creative Account Manager

Allyson is Vanguard’s go-to person for all aspects of the materials production process — from graphic design to 508 compliance. A gifted problem-solver and project manager, she works closely with both our clients and our vendors on digital and print portfolios that will carry our clients’ messages to key audiences.

Brenda K. Foster, MPA

Brenda K. Foster, MPA

Senior Vice President, Chief of Innovation

Brenda is a nationally recognized, multifaceted communications strategist who applies her decades of experience to change how people think and feel about issues that affect us every day. In addition to serving as Vanguard’s Chief of Innovation, she is a communications researcher and strategic planner who has shaped direction and messaging for numerous successful national nonprofit and government campaigns. A former broadcast journalist, Brenda is a sought-after producer and speech, script and media writer for audiences that include celebrities, CEOs, farmers, caregivers, young adults with mental health needs, and library and museum professionals.

Recognition
• 2021 Finalist, Washington Women in Public Relations Woman of the Year
• 2019 Awardee, Top Women in PR, PR News

Affiliations
• Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, American University
• Board of Directors, SoundMind Live
• Co-founder/Steering Committee, Progressive Communicators of Washington, DC
• Wish Granter, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic
• Member, Washington Women in Public Relations
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program
• Former Chair, Manassas Park City School Board

Brittany Vanderpool, MPS

Brittany Vanderpool, MPS

Senior Account Supervisor, Digital Team Lead

Brittany is an accomplished media and events manager with more than a decade of experience. She is well-versed in digital media, supporting clients’ goals in social media, web strategy, digital ad buys, and online content development and analysis. She uses her extensive earned media experience to draft tailored media strategies and collateral for national and local media outlets. Brittany also has a significant background in managing large-scale, highly detailed events — from annual conferences for more than 5,000 attendees to red carpet award ceremonies to media events.

Recognition
• 2022 COMM Achiever, University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Communication, Alumni Awards
• 2021 Finalist, Washington Women in Public Relations, Emerging Leaders Awards, Small/Boutique Agency
• 2021 Elite Finalist, Bulldog PR Awards, PR Star Under 40

Certifications
• Hybrid and Virtual Event Director (HVED) Certificate, Event Leadership Institute
• Pandemic Meeting and Event Design (PMED) Certificate, Event Leadership Institute

Camille Jewell

Camille Jewell

Account Manager

Camille is an Associated Press award-winning journalist experienced in developing and executing story ideas and creating compelling visual content under urgent deadlines. She helps clients pitch and shape stories and develop strategic plans that get their issues — from stroke to sustainable agriculture — in front of important audiences.

Certifications/Affiliations
• Certificate in Inclusive and Ethical Leadership from the University of South Florida
• Member, Public Relations Society of America, Phoenix Chapter
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program

Catalina Avellaneda

Catalina Avellaneda

Assistant Account Executive

Catalina is a resourceful PR pro who contributes to projects through media support, language adaptation, and workplan development and tracking. She develops integrated media materials, such as news releases, advisories, statements, blogs, pitch letters, and content for use in digital media, including social media messages and web copy. She also monitors and tracks media to identify opportunities and coverage trends, as well as produces audience engagement reports.

Certifications
• Certificate in Inclusive and Ethical Leadership from the University of South Florida

Catie Carreras

Catie Carreras

Editorial Manager

Catie is a top-notch writer and editor who ensures every client’s unique voice is represented in their print and digital content. Collaborating with graphic designers and project managers, she crafts impactful messaging, writing and editing everything from infographics to PowerPoints, key messages, blog posts and reports for a wide portfolio of clients. She also has experience in branding research and video production.

Certifications/Affiliations
• Certificate in Writing in Plain Language from The Communications Board
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program

Chantelle Polite

Chantelle Polite

Account Executive

Chantelle is a skilled digital strategist and communicator who has supported a diverse mix of clients and causes throughout her career. From research activities to content development to online community management, she has been an integral part of many campaign lifecycles. She is regularly tapped for her expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion principles to create social media strategies for specific audiences — from Medicaid recipients and physicians to academics and legislators.

Crystal Borde

Crystal Borde

Vice President, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Practice Lead

Crystal brings more than two decades of experience managing and implementing strategic communications efforts for advocacy and government public education campaigns. She leads the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Practice at Vanguard, specializing in developing strategic communications plans and integrated media plans using a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. She also implements traditional and digital media strategies, including managing media outreach and creating culturally relevant content for national brands and local initiatives.

Recognition
• 2022 Diamond Award, PRSA National Capital Chapter
• 2021 Rising Star Award, PRSA National Capital Chapter
• 2021 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Champion Honoree, Ragan’s Top Women in Communications Awards
• 2021 Changemaker Honoree, PR News’ Top Woman in PR

Affiliations
• President-Elect, Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter Board of Directors
• DEI Committee Chair, Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter Board of Directors, 2020–present
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program
• Director, Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter Board of Directors, 2020–2023

Certifications
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate, University of South Florida Muma College of Business
Anti-Racist Leadership Series 101-301, Leadership of Greater Washington
• Certificate of Completion, CommonHealth ACTION Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Training Institute

Erika Gaitan

Erika Gaitan

Account Executive

Erika is a digital and traditional media pro who supports Vanguard clients through writing social media messages, conducting research for educational content and fact-checking. A native Spanish speaker of Salvadoran descent, she coordinates and manages Spanish translations and the adaptation process. Erika also drafts materials and assists in the development of communications plans, pitching and partner engagement for both government and nonprofit clients. Additionally, Erika manages Vanguard’s Comunicadores for the Future program, serving as all interns’ main liaison at Vanguard.

Faith James Doyle

Faith James Doyle

Account Supervisor

A seasoned communicator, Faith develops, manages and executes a broad range of public relations strategies for Vanguard’s nonprofit clients. She is well-versed in digital media, including social media and web strategy, content development and analysis. An experienced project manager, she uses her extensive earned media background to draft tailored media strategies and collateral for national and local media outlets, as well as develops creative pitches and angles to get exposure for client partners.

Affiliations
• Member, Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA)

Jo Ann Antoine

Jo Ann Antoine

Creative Director

Jo Ann is an award-winning graphic designer with more than 20 years of experience in graphic design, art direction and project management. An expert in translating complex information visually across print and digital properties, she marries technology with design to improve audience engagement. She has extensive experience delivering conceptual design and artwork for websites, annual reports, newsletters, books, catalogs, flyers, identity packages, banners and outdoor advertising, as well as video production and art direction for photo shoots.

Certifications
• Coursework in Film Production and Video Animation, Toronto Film School, Ontario, Canada
• Digital Health Awards Program Judge, 2022 & 2023

Karen Linscott, MA

Karen Linscott, MA

Chief Operating Officer

As COO, Karen manages Vanguard’s Senior Leadership Team and contracting processes to ensure we are delivering our very best every day. Beyond her operational expertise, she has dedicated her career to improving health care in the U.S. She was a physical therapist before transitioning to work on health policy and bioethics at the local and national level.

Certifications
• Certificate in Nonprofit Management, The George Washington University

LeAnne DeFrancesco

LeAnne DeFrancesco

Vice President, Design and Editorial Practice Lead

LeAnne has more than 20 years of experience in editorial production and brings particular expertise in developing customized content for diverse audiences, scriptwriting, advertising and messaging. She leads Vanguard’s Design + Editorial team, overseeing the firm’s visual projects and its work in messaging and content development.

Affiliations
• Member, Washington Women in PR, Pro Bono Committee
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program
• Gonzaga College High School Mothers Club; Rugby Boosters

Lelani Clark

Lelani Clark

Associate Director

Lelani is a highly recognized communications expert with a track record of securing top-tier media placements, producing dynamic content and acting as a corporate spokesperson. She has more than 15 years of strategic communications and marketing expertise in DEI and social impact PR, government relations and issues advocacy. Lelani has shared her communication expertise in articles featured on Nasdaq, Yahoo! News and on WABC TV, and has been a guest lecturer at top universities.

Certifications
• Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate, University of South Florida Muma College of Business

Affiliations
• Steering Committee Member, Progressive Communicators of Washington, DC
• Board Member, UC Berkeley Alumni Club of New York (CACNY) 2023-present
• UC Berkeley Alumni Mentors Program, Mentor, 2022–present
• 2023 Selection Committee Member, UC Berkeley African American Initiative Scholarship Program, CAL Alumni Association
• 2023 Panelist, UC Berkeley Career Connections Networking Series, DEI Roles in Organizations, CAL Alumni Association
• 2021 & 2020 Member/Advisor, Association of Women’s Business Centers
• 2021 Stevie Awards Judge
• 2018 & 2013 Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellow, John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice
• 2012 Tow Fellow, John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice
• Host, Big Voices on Small Business podcast
• Host, High Impact PR webinars for small businesses, entrepreneurs, women and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) business owners

Lisa Swanberg, MSLS

Lisa Swanberg, MSLS

Senior Vice President

Lisa blends a proven ability to manage large-scale, federal, national public health communications efforts with a passion for incorporating youth and family engagement into substance use disorder (SUD) prevention efforts. She applies decades of experience providing strategic guidance to project teams; developing strategic and operational plans; and producing data-driven, outcomes-oriented reporting. Her extensive knowledge of prevention, intervention and treatment of SUDs, as well as deep relationships with many of the national organizations that support federal efforts on this issue, makes her a critical member of our team.

Certifications/Affiliations
• Certified Project Management Professional (PMP)
• Member, Project Management Institute
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program

Maria Enie

Maria Enie

Associate Director, Integrated Media Services Team Lead

Maria is a senior media relations strategist with a track record of securing top-tier media placements regionally, nationally and internationally. She has more than a decade of experience in project management, including media planning and outreach, strategic communications planning, brand management, writing and editing, digital communications and policy communications. Maria is a skilled spokesperson trainer and interviewer who applies her media expertise to guide federal and nonprofit spokespeople to success.

Maria Rodriguez

Maria Rodriguez

President and CEO

Maria Rodriguez leads a talented staff of diverse individuals at Vanguard to advance social change and champion causes to help protect the health and well-being of our planet and its people. Ready to roll up her sleeves at any moment to support project teams, brainstorm with clients or explore new innovations in the industry, she is widely recognized as a top woman in PR who also dedicates enormous amounts of time to causes and organizations near and dear to her heart. She is particularly savvy in social marketing, diversity, equity and inclusion communications, media relations, and event production.

Board/Advisory Roles
• Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, immediate past Board Chair
• Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital, Treasurer
• The George Washington University’s Leadership Advisory Council
• National Press Club Communicators Team, Co-chair
• Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute Advisory Board
• Former Board Member, The National Network to End Domestic Violence
• Former Board Member, National Latino Behavioral Health Association

Recognition
• 2023 PRWeek Women of Distinction Honoree
• 2019 PR News Hall of Fame Inductee
• 2020 Leadership of Greater Washington, Class Member
• 2018 U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce Award for Innovation and Performance
• 2016 National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame Inductee
• 2016 Finalist, Washington PR Woman of the Year
• 2006 25 Best Small Companies, Working Mother Magazine
• 2004 Matrix Award, Association of Women in Communications
• 2003 PR Week Agency of the Year
• 2003 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Hispanic Magazine’s Latina Excellence Awards

Certifications
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate, University of South Florida Muma College of Business
Anti-Racist Leadership Series 101-301, Leadership of Greater Washington

Melissa O’Brien, SHRM-CP, MA

Melissa O’Brien, SHRM-CP, MA

Operations and HR Manager

Melissa is an experienced HR professional that connects the dots between human behavior, professional opportunity and business compliance. She is committed to helping our employees access an array of benefits as they work to strengthen their skill sets, mentor others and pursue new responsibilities. She has a track record of designing processes, improving workflows and providing training that helps our firm and our employees function more effectively.

Certifications
• SHRM Certified Professional, SHRM-CP
• SHRM Workplace Mental Health Ally Certificate

Affiliations/Recognition
• Guest presenter, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) & Positive Communication, Leadership Conference, Middle Georgia State University
• Student Affairs Greatness Award for New Professional of the Year (MGA)

Publications
• Female Victims of Acquaintance Rape in College: Incidence and Effects of Encounters with Perpetrators, Journal of American College Health, 2021

Riley Smith

Riley Smith

Account Executive

Riley is a multi-talented professional who started her PR journey supporting initiatives related to education through graphic design, proofing and data analysis. At Vanguard, she leverages her skills in media relations, technical assistance, marketing, plain language writing, graphic design support, contract reporting and research to make impactful contributions to both federal and nonprofit accounts.

Affiliations
• Steering Committee Member, Progressive Communicators of Washington, DC

Savannah Young

Savannah Young

Senior Account Manager

Savannah is a results-driven communications professional with experience developing and executing communications strategies and content creation. She serves as a primary point of contact with clients and client stakeholders, helping to provide coordination and quality oversight across integrated activities — from media outreach to content development to event planning. Savannah excels at writing and storytelling to both educate and persuade audiences.

Shannon Walsh, MBA

Shannon Walsh, MBA

Associate Director

Shannon has more than a decade of experience in communications, focusing primarily on connecting organizations to align for greater impact. She brings her leadership skills in social marketing training and technical assistance and relationship management to the development and execution of communications strategies, especially as they relate to partnership development.

Affiliations/Certifications
• Member, Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA)
• Member, Society for Health Communication
• Mentor, Comunicadores for the Future Program
• Graduate Certificate, Public Health Communications and Marketing, The George Washington University

Sharon Cummins

Sharon Cummins

Senior Resource Specialist

Sharon is an organized manager who staff rely on daily for document and subscription management, contracting details, accounts payable, purchase requisitions and other accounting duties. An astute problem solver, she excels at finding information and resources that help the firm run smoothly and maintain compliance, always ensuring staff and clients have positive experiences with Vanguard’s Operations and Accounting teams.