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Meet Vanja Bannan: Founder of the highly creative communications consulting agency BannComm

Vanja Bannan cites fleeing war-torn (former) Yugoslavia in 1992 as a child as a defining moment in her life — her family’s struggle and determination to thrive taught her the importance of perseverance and the power of building relationships. Cultivating strong relationships through chemistry, empathy, and respect became one of Vanja’s core life strategies. In 2014 Vanja Bannan founded BannComm, a modern communications consulting agency specializing in highly creative digital marketing solutions – based on these principles. Despite multiple personal setbacks, including some heartbreaking ones, her resilience carried her through: today, Vanja and her award-winning teamwork with some of the leading companies in culture, architecture, and technology.

 

My first job ever was… working at Timothy’s World of Coffee. My family had recently fled the vicious conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and my brilliantly resourceful parents purchased the franchise in order to survive. My sister and I worked long, long hours alongside mom and dad. We all wore a lot of hats, we were tired more often than not, but we were together and we were alive. I was 15 years old.

I launched BannComm because… it served two important purposes for me. First, I was fascinated with the constant evolution and innovation of the communications sector. I needed a job that wasn’t chained to a cubicle, a job with dynamism and a constant pressure to thrive. A firm that pushed the digital envelope was the ticket.

Second, BannComm was my rock throughout several huge life challenges. It was one thing I knew I had complete control over, during times when life decided to throw a lot of curveballs my way.

My proudest accomplishment is… going from ESL to LSE! The mirrored acronyms are a coincidence: English as a Second Language and The London School of Economics—but they are a constant reminder for me. I came to Canada with limited English skills, something that puts many immigrants at an immediate disadvantage. But through hard work and resilience, the situation can absolutely be flipped 180 degrees. 

Fluent in English, I graduated from LSE with a Master’s of Science in Communications in 2007. The effort made to get through my academic career was as much for myself as it was for my family: a way to say thank you to my parents for all their sacrifices, to show them that it was absolutely for something. That is what I am most proud of.

My boldest move to date was… falling in love and building a life with a man who had cancer. 

When I met Brian, he had already been diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As we started to fall in love, I had a lot of conservations with myself and my support network. Tough ones. But in the end, I decided I wasn’t going to base my life on a “what if.” 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… learning how to ride the rollercoaster and leading by example for my children. The highs in this life are high, and the lows are really low. But it’s forced me to grow a thicker skin and made me more mature. I’ve learned how to better accept feedback, in all its forms. Every hard lesson was a good lesson in the end.

And since I am the business, and the business is me, my children get to experience facets of the rollercoaster. I try to show my children what hard work and perseverance looks like every day, and I know they’ll be better for it.

 

“Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.”

 

The most difficult thing about what I do is… learning how to cope with risk, yet still, always be taking it and meeting it head on. Risk is everywhere. There’s risk in sitting and doing nothing, there’s risk in betting it all. I feel like many people have a limited relationship with risk and understanding its nature and how you invite it or mitigate it. It’s scary stuff, and exciting stuff, and necessary stuff. Difficult, always. Essential: you bet! 

I surprise people when… I tell them about my personal obstacles. I’ve shared some of the big ones here already. In person I can come across as bubbly, positive, and living a charmed life. Behind the curtain, there are hardships, grave mistakes, and ugly cries. 

My best advice from a mentor was… it’s actually not from a mentor, it was from a psychologist on a TV show of all places. They spoke about removing the word “just” from your vocabulary and paying attention to how damaging it can be to your tone, your frame of mind, your ambition. The word “just” is weak. It does nothing but undermine your efforts: everything you have done and everything you are trying to do. Think about this! Take for example: Hi, I am just following up on the email I sent vs Hi, I am following up on the email I sent. “Just” is an unnecessary placeholder. I took this to heart and it truly changed my overall attitude and the way I do business.

I would tell my 21-year old self… to worry less, to trust her gut and intuition. To as quickly as possible internalize the fact that lack of control is inevitable. Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.

My biggest setback was… my husband and I struggled with fertility. In the end, it worked out—we have two beautiful kids—but dealing with it all put my growth plans for BannComm on the backburner for some time. I was distracted, scared, vulnerable. 

I overcame it by… leaning on BannComm! Despite being backburnered, BannComm was still there for me. It was my first creation and the one element that wasn’t completely out of my control when all else seemed to be. It served as an oasis of stability and calm, a port in an otherwise soul-wrenching storm.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… non-existent. I rarely give out advice in general; I do not think I have all the answers. In the rare case that I do, it’s going to be something I have lived and followed as well. I strongly believe in dialogue vs monologue. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how incredibly important relationships are to me. They are the core resource that I rely on for everything good in my life. My job title and web bios surely imply that relationship building and maintenance is a top skill, sure. But it can be hard for me to succinctly express the depth to which I value and respect the power of a strong relationship.

One thing that is keeping me motivated is… leading by example for my children—Theodore and Vivienne. This experience with Women of Influence and all that led up to it has only further crystallized how important it is to be a role model for them. Vivi or joiedevivi as I affectionately call her especially motivates me. As a girl growing up in today’s rapidly evolving world, she is beginning to face her own challenges, ask her own questions, and become her own woman. Being her guide is my greatest honour. 

My next step is… to continue helping my clients navigate through this aggressive, pandemic-catalyzed digital shift, and prepared them for the post-COVID-19 digital world.