Capitol Communicator is running a series featuring in-depth profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this “Up Close and Personal” profile, we feature Mara Vandlik. Photography for Capitol Communicator’s profile series is by Cade Martin. Wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup was by Patti D Nelson and Janice Kinigopoulos for THE Artist Agency.
Mara, please provide a short bio and your current title.
For a little more than a year, I have worked at Smith & Company, a strategic communications consulting firm. We specialize in discretely helping our clients adeptly manage and mitigate crisis situations and address potential risks to their reputations and brands. We represent leading corporations, organizations, institutions, governments, celebrities, professional athletes and high-profile individuals. Prior to starting at Smith & Company, I was Vice President at McGinn and Company, where I worked on high-profile crisis and reputation management cases for five years alongside CEO Dan McGinn. I started my career at Georgetown University, where I worked as an Associate Director in the Office of Advancement while receiving my Master’s degree. Crisis management has long been my passion and I feel privileged to have worked with some of the best in the business.
Are you involved in any other organizations?
In addition to my work with Smith & Company, I am currently serving as the 2016 President of Washington Women in Public Relations, an organization dedicated to advancing women communicators in the D.C. area. I have been involved with this organization for several years in different roles until I took over as president. What drew me to this group was the opportunity to meet others in the public relations industry and the group’s reputation for strong professional development programming. My time with WWPR has been an immensely valuable growing experience both professionally and personally. I’ve met so many fantastic women that have become great friends and learned so much through the organization’s professional development events.
What are the things you are most proud of?
This is tough! The first thing that comes to mind is when I took a chance and cold e-mailed my former boss, Dan McGinn, saying I wanted to work for him. I was working in development at Georgetown University getting my Masters when I read an op-ed by him and I remember thinking to myself, I want to go work for him. I remember closing my eyes when I hit send on that e-mail and couldn’t believe it when I got a note back saying, “Come talk to me.” Taking that chance was tough for me but started me on an amazing path and helped me to realize that taking chances in life can lead to wonderful, unexpected places.
Who were your personal role models?
How much time do we have? I feel really lucky to have been supported by so many people as I’ve tried to figure out my way in the world. My parents were completely focused on providing my siblings and me with the best education we could get and really led by example. They are the most honest, decent and fun parents I could have asked for. Whenever I would head over to a friend’s house, they insisted I always had something to bring, usually a bag of pretzels! Even when I thought that was super embarrassing, the lesson has stuck with me and I always bring something to the table, whether literally or figuratively, for my clients. In addition to my mom and dad, both of my siblings are so passionate about their careers and life outside of work, I always feel inspired by them. My husband is such a good guy and helps me to laugh on the tougher days and the good ones too and reminds me to not take things too seriously. My last year working with Judy Smith has been an incredible experience. Her commitment to her clients and her non-stop work ethic is really inspiring
Did your role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?
My family has instilled in me a big sense of compassion and empathy for others. When faced with someone who may not be behaving at their best, I try and give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they are just having a bad day. I think gratitude and saying thank you is really important as well. Lastly, someone once told me, do what’s going to make you happy in ten years. I recently remembered that and it’s been in my head a lot lately. When you think ten years out, the little worries in life don’t seem so terribly important anymore.
What professional advice do you have for others?
Get out and meet people! And get involved with an organization outside of work you feel passionate about. I’m still amazed, even though I shouldn’t be, at the power of networking. I know it’s an icky word but so many people have helped me along the way and now I try to pay it forward. Everyone I have ever asked to look at my resume, or speak to me about his or her work, or put me in touch with someone, was always more than happy to do it. My first boss in this industry, Dan McGinn taught me so much. I feel like I could write a book just on his words of wisdom but I’m still trying to get him to write it first! He always used to say, “Make sure you are getting five years of experience, not the same year of experience five times.” His other phrase that has really stuck with me is, “Don’t be a completion consultant. Be a continuing consultant.” It means that you always have to be one step ahead in providing your client with meaningful and actionable insights and should constantly be thinking of how best to help them, not just about how to complete an assignment.
What advice do you have on what’s appropriate attire for your organization.
Business casual is almost always the way to go, but we keep formal business attire handy for when we need it. The key for me is simplicity and finding pieces that travel well and that I don’t have to iron.
Where do you buy most of the clothes you wear to the office?
I would have to say J Crew, Vince and Theory comprise the vast majority of my wardrobe. I also love Nordstrom and Bloomingdales and never pass up an opportunity to swing by an outlet mall.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I love to eat my way through cities as I think it’s the best way to get to know a place. Earlier this year, I went to the Copenhagen Beer Festival (as a red wine drinker) with my husband, sister and brother-in-law; and then to Noma in Copenhagen, which is considered one of the top-three restaurants in the world! It was a quick and delicious 72-hour trip.