The conversation shared below was part of the YIMBYtown 2022 conference, cohosted by Sightline Institute and Portland: Neighbors Welcome.*

Combine oversaturated, distracted audiences with topics that tend toward the dry and complex (say, zoning policy) and you have a recipe for communications that don’t get the bites you may have hoped.  

So, add a dash of conflict! An appetizing visual! The comfort—or spice—of a human story! And serve it up where your target audiences already like to eat! This panel discussion was a smorgasbord of tested comms strategies. (And, enough with the tortured metaphor!)  

Alfred Twu, architect, politico, architect, and advocate with East Bay for Everyone, reminded YIMBYtown participants that “the most important thing, always, is to think about who the audience is.” Alfred’s illustrations, in wide circulation among pro-housing groups, invite people to imagine what a vibrant, walkable, compact community could look like, casting a range of home types as friendly and familiar (hint: pointed roofs are inviting!). He also reminds us to show, don’t tell! That is, introduce us to real grannies living in converted garage flats or backyard cottages, rather than telling us what accessory dwelling units are. 

Allyson Woodard, of Sunrise PDX and the Sunrise Movement, National Hub, walked through attention-grabbing, frame-resetting campaigns they won on the power of good storytelling, from staging a newsworthy conflict where the moral authority is clear to defining villains (who don’t necessarily have to be evil but are defenders of a broken status quo) to getting it all on video. 

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  • Jamal Raad, co-founder and executive director of Evergreen Action, translated effective climate policy press work to abundant housing advocacy, underscoring the effectiveness of building relationships with reporters on your beat, calling them on the phone, and providing not only their next new story, but resources and background for the follow up story—the ongoing coverage. Jamal reminded us that the media beast is hungry; feed it! Journalists are always looking for the next piece they can file, and sometimes it just takes a phone call to hand feed them your pitch.  

    *YIMBYtown 2022 occurred April 11–13 in Portland, Oregon, the fourth annual gathering (after some COVID delays) of “Yes in My Back Yard” (YIMBY) community leaders, organizers, planners, policymakers, educators, and housing providers eager to share resources and strategies for building more affordable, sustainable, and equitable communities.