Vanguard Celebrates 25 Years of Communicating for Social Change

On March 2, 1987, I joined my mentor and friend, Diane MacEachern, to found Vanguard Communications.  While I was only 26 years old, by then I had witnessed and participated in dozens of communications campaigns that incited change in environmental legislation, women’s reproductive rights, Supreme Court justice nominations, food safety regulations and other pressing social issues. I knew that I wanted to devote my career to promoting social change through the power of communications and marketing. So when Diane asked me to partner with her to establish a public relations agency that would exclusively focus on social causes, I jumped at the chance.

Diane has since left Vanguard, but for 14 years, we enjoyed an amazing and rewarding partnership working together on a wide range of issues for many highly respected nonprofit and government organizations. And, now, 25 years into my tenure at Vanguard, I can say that I still love what I do, I still believe in the power of communications and I still devote my time to promoting social issues. But, my how the industry has changed in that time!

It’s hard to imagine that we performed our jobs 25 years ago without the communications tools that we rely on so heavily today. When Vanguard was founded, only a handful of people had cell phones and nobody had ever heard of Facebook, Twitter or even the Internet, for that matter. The standard method of distributing press releases was by mail — the kind of mail that you have to print out, stuff into an envelope, run through a postage meter and wait a few days for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver. Fax machines were only available to companies with deep pockets. When we were finally able to afford one, faxes arrived on thermal paper that over time suffered from disappearing ink syndrome!

We can now reach our audiences more often and in much more tailored ways through communications vehicles designed just for them. A piece on an evening network newscast or in The New York Times is no longer every PR campaign’s desired outcome. Blog postings, Twitter mentions, Facebook likes, YouTube subscribers and a myriad of other information-sharing actions now contribute to a campaign’s success.

These tools are immediate, available 24/7, far-reaching, measurable and fairly inexpensive.

Yes, a lot has changed in the PR and communications field, and I think most of it is for the better (the jury is still out on 24/7 accessibility!).  Yet no matter how much the media landscape has changed, one thing hasn’t changed. The most important tenet to effective communications remains the same — know your audience. The better you know your audience, the more capable you will be in crafting messages that will resonate with them and selecting tools that will reach them.

I wonder what the next 25 years will bring to our industry. Will we see such monumental advancements in communications modes and technologies? I think so, and I can’t wait to figure out how they can help us better advocate for social change.