Inducted into the 2021 PRWeek Hall of Femme (Hall of Fame for women in public relations,) recognized in 2020 as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Leaders in New York in City & State magazine’s Black Power List, one of 50 Game Changers of PR by PR News and a Champion of PR by PRWeek, Vanessa Wakeman is one of a few Black women to found and own a social change agency— helping to shift the paradigm of an industry that is led primarily by white men. She shapes narratives and stories that reflect our multicultural world.
Vanessa is a futurist and strategic advisor. Her work through her company, The Wakeman Agency, focuses on the ecosystem of social change and advancing the efforts of mission-driven causes. Growing up in New York, Vanessa’s activism and commitment to social justice were instilled early on. She organized the workers at her first job, a catering company, to demand and win better labor conditions —when she was only 15. After working her way through college at some of New York City’s top law firms, she landed a position at Morgan Stanley. There, she created a record number of career opportunities for women and people of color in the firm’s technology department.
Vanessa is a trusted advisor to nonprofit organizations and socially responsible companies in the U.S. and internationally. She has successfully led initiatives to support values-driven transformation and communications for boards of directors, leadership, employees and other stakeholder groups.
Vanessa is highly knowledgeable in developing communication strategies, assessing organizational culture, creating safe spaces for difficult conversations, and helping to build frameworks for organizations to cultivate healthy and equitable environments.
During the COVID- 19 pandemic and in the wake of the recent racially motivated murders, she has been called upon by a number of organizations to help them re-imagine their values, culture and operations, through the lens of racial justice.
As a public relations expert and thought leader, Vanessa has created and executed highly successful engagements for clients that include The Alliance for Financial Inclusion, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, The New York Women’s Foundation, Hispanics in Philanthropy, and many others.
Vanessa is an outspoken voice on the need for more inclusion and equity in the public relations and nonprofit sectors, while also working to amplify the voices of underrepresented groups in the media. Most recently she created She Roars, the first thought leadership training program designed for women. The Narrative Justice Project soon followed, which is a free media training program developed specifically for people of color.
Vanessa has been a keynote presenter, session leader and panelist on topics ranging from philanthropy to thought leadership for women. Recent speaking engagements include UN Women, Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, Utah Association of Nonprofits and the Women’s Leadership Institute at Manhattanville College.
In addition to her work at The Wakeman Agency, she serves on the Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society of America Foundation and the Commission for Public Relations Education, leading the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to develop higher education curriculum standards through a multicultural lens.