Sandra Wills Hannon Even now, more than 40 years after graduating as a member of the first Bachelor of Public Relations class at Mount Saint Vincent University, Sandra Wills Hannon still credits the degree with providing her with skills that have been foundational to her success.

“Such a perfect learning experience”
“The Mount was the first institution in Canada to offer a public relations degree, and it was just a phenomenal program. Many of the skills I learned at MSVU, I still use to this day – and I graduated in 1981… and we’re now in 2023,” Sandra says, adding: “What stands out for me is the practical side we were taught in relation to the theoretical information we learned about public relations and related disciplines like business and human behaviour and communications. There was an emphasis on practicum and providing us with opportunities to practice the theory we were learning in class.”

Sandra fondly remembers one class where students were required to find a client, develop an understanding of the client’s objectives and then develop a strategic communications plan to help achieve them.

“It was so exciting, and such a perfect learning experience. I found a woodworking artist and I got him some placements on local TV stations, and that was so empowering. It gave me the confidence to know that I can do this as a career and it also reinforced what we learned in the classroom,” she says. “Out of gratitude, he gave me one of his works of art, and I really treasure it. On the back, he wrote, ‘To Sandy – The best PR pro in the business’.”

Award-winning Founder and CEO
Sandra Wills HannonThat first client’s praise would prove to be true. Sandra is the founder and CEO of Washington, DC-based The Hannon Group, LLC, which last year marked 20 years in business. The Hannon Group aims to empower diverse voices through market research and marketing.

Through her firm, she has supported communications campaigns for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Sandra has also provided PR counsel to the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations to support The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

Sandra’s success grew from opportunities to work in corporate and academic PR that opened up to her after she graduated from MSVU, combined with additional degrees she earned, including a doctorate in organizational communications from Howard University in Washington, DC.

“When I graduated from Howard, they offered me a job in the public relations and advertising program in their school of communications. Eventually, I was the chair of that program. And then, while I was teaching there, I started to get phone calls from different institutions or individuals looking for consulting support on different projects,” she says. “I joined Fleishman Hillard and became their first Black vice president in the DC office and only their second Black vice president in the history of the company.

Eventually it occurred to me that I could probably do this on my own, and I decided to open my own shop, starting out of my home.”

Since then, Sandra has also won multiple awards, most recently becoming a recipient of the Enterprising Woman of the Year award, class of 2023, and a 2023 winner in the Business Entrepreneurs category in Top Women Awards presented by PRNEWS. PRNEWS said Wills Hannon, “Led her team in supporting federal agencies as they tackle national issues, including the federal launch of the ‘988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline,’ and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s media campaign to advance COVID-19-related resources.”

Celebrating MSVU Connections
Sandra Wills Hannon with four generations of her familyEven after achieving and experiencing so much since graduating from MSVU, Sandra remains grateful for the part the institution has played in her life and her success.

“I am just so appreciative of the foundation the Mount provided, and how the university makes an effort to look back and remember its alumni as it celebrates its accomplishments. There’s a lasting connection,” says Sandra.

Sandra has memories of living on campus in both Assisi Hall and The Birches, serving as a Residence Assistant and connecting with her fellow students.

“It was great because there were so many people from different parts of the world living in the dorms. There were a lot of people from Bermuda, people from all across Canada, and from different parts of the West Indies. It was great to meet fellow Canadians from different parts of Canada and learn more about my country through people from different parts of the country.”

Sandra adds that her mom, Dr. Dorothy Wills (MSVU Bachelor of Science, ’56, and Honorary Doctorate, ’07) and her brother Leighton Wills, (Bachelor of Business Administration, ’83) are also MSVU alumni.

“MSVU means so much to me and my family. Attending the university is kind of a family tradition,” says Sandra. “I couldn’t have asked for a better core training and core education than what I got at the Mount.”