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From book idea to book reading for Our Lot (& other big ideas)

“Communications time,” or the time it takes for shifting audiences’ perceptions, ideas, feelings, thoughts  — which is often what advocacy communications is about, can be long-haul time.

I was reflecting on that this morning while contemplating a quick shout-out for a friend, Alyssa Katz, who’s passing through Chicago soon for a reading of her recently-appeared book, Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us:

  • When: 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m., August 24, 2009
  • Where: 810 N. Milwaukee, National Training and Information Center, Chicago, IL
  • RSVP: Free but RSVP to Regina Lewis at or call 312-243-3035 by August 21.

Full disclosure, I have not read it yet –it’s on hold for me at Chicago Public Library (I’m gonna buy my copy at the reading, of course!)– but I remember when the idea gestated. Around 9-10 years ago Alyssa was my editor for a number of book reviews I did for the New York City-based magazine City Limits (still around, online these days I think). We struck up a friendship over the phone, fell out of touch.

Then around 2000, right around the time I was leaving work doing communications around housing and banking policy, Alyssa and I chatted when she told me she was planning on writing a book about the role of activists and advocates in shaping U.S. housing and banking policy, like the creation of the Community Reinvestment Act in the 1970s. Events caught up with Alyssa and made her work more than timely.

Imagine all the changes a person goes through over some 10 years (Alyssa, it won’t embarrass you if I say that you started out as a 30something? OK, sorry, I should say late 20s, right?). And always working on that book.

A good example, for us at nonprofits, of why communications strategy needs to have an organization’s big idea at the heart of it–a shift in your audience’s perception that you would love to achieve–that’s worth working on over the long haul.

Ideally it’s not just “we want to be a million dollars bigger”–put that in Alyssa’s terms: “I want to finish that damn book”–well, of course. But something that’s bigger than the organization itself. Like I say, have not yet read the final product but I imagine for Alyssa it’s something about uncovering the really rather under-investigated insides of the housing business.

Ideally you are able to verbalize the kind of attitude shift you’d like to achieve. At Community Media Workshop, for example, we’ve been working to build the field of nonprofit communications. To the extent that we can call it a “field” now (details of which would be subject for another post or two) — and note that we’re not taking credit for making that happen singlehandedly, we’re just among the players out there moving towards that goal–we feel pretty successful at 20.

Anyway. Check out Our Lot. And maybe think about your big-idea goal.

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Category: Other Events Around Town, Useful Books

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