What a pleasure to sit down and chat with Nikki Reiss, Senior Strategist for Advocacy & Communications Solutions (ACS). There was so much to share from this interview that we are sharing it in total. We know you’ll love getting to know Nikki and her passion for ACS.
Tell me more about your business and its mission.
Advocacy & Communication Solutions (ACS) is a national communication, advocacy, and strategy development consulting firm that helps state and local government agencies, nonprofits, for-profits, and philanthropic organizations successfully build strategies to position themselves as leaders in their respective fields. We are headquartered in Cleveland and work in four primary service areas–advocacy, communication, strategy development, and capacity building–. Our firm has subject matter expertise in early childhood, K-12 education, workforce issues, Medicaid, and health and human services.
The co-founders, Lori McClung and Scarlett Bouder, realized no one had the passion and expertise they needed when they were seeking a consultant to help them in their work at a public school district, so they formed a firm they would want to hire themselves. I was lucky enough to join them in 2019 and while my role involves a significant amount of lobbying at the state level, I’m also fortunate in that I can share advocacy skills and learnings across the state in a variety of settings.
When and how did you find your career path?
I have always seen politics and policy as the best way for me to help make the world the place we deserve–just, equitable, and kind. Law school and subsequent law practice reinforced for me that one way to do so was to right wrongs through the legal system, but I prefer a system approach, which is why I find lobbying at the state level to be rewarding (if also frustrating). The best way I can use my professional skills is by identifying an existing barrier for people, especially underserved or underrepresented populations, and then finding and implementing a policy solution.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
Early in my career, I served as a Legislative Service Commission Fellow at the statehouse, graduated from Boston College Law school, then passed the Ohio Bar. I was briefly a commercial bankruptcy attorney before becoming a public policy attorney (which is just a fancy word for a lobbyist). Before college, I worked several part-time and summer jobs that taught important lessons. My time in a frozen pizza factory showed, in no uncertain terms, how you often need a team to finish the job. It also helped me understand the value (and challenges) of 8 hours of physical labor, day in and day out. My years running the summer free lunch program for my city helped me appreciate the complexity and value of each person’s life, no matter what we may see from the outside. And I became very good at driving a pickup truck with dozens of meals in the back without spilling them!
What is your big hope for ACS’ future?
I hope that organizations and communities continue to find value in our work. Public trust in our governmental institutions is at an all-time low, and depending on your values, it can be a tough time to see a path forward. But advocacy, in all its forms, is what has always created change in the world. It gives us each an outlet for our own passions and ideals, while hopefully exposing us to the topics others care about, too. I hope that more people decide to use their voices to defend what they care about or ask public entities to step up and care about those that traditionally have been ignored or deliberately pushed down. And I hope that when folks do decide to engage, they turn to those of us with the expertise to help them be most effective.
What are you working on now?
We have a big state-level project related to school-based health that I find fascinating. Health in general is such an enormous lever in all our lives and is impacted by all the social determinants we intrinsically know, but don’t always stop to consider. If others have an interest in the work, I’d love to talk to them, as it takes entire communities to move the needle. Mostly, if folks have an interest in advocacy, or are seeking to learn more, I want them to know I’m here and always love to talk shop.
When you’re not working at Haven, what keeps you busy?
Depending on the time of year you will find me cheering for the Liverpool Football Club, the Columbus Crew, the Boston Red Sox, or the Cincinnati Bengals–or in a good year, all of them at once! I’m also a voracious and ecumenical reader, so if anyone has a good biography recommendation, or wants to share thoughts on the brilliance of Kate Atkinson, I’m all ears. I use baking to relieve stress, as the utility workers in my neighborhood for the last year will attest. I’ve found several favorite cookie recipes that are hard to screw up, should folks need any ideas.
What advice would you give to other people working from home?
Overcome the natural inertia we all experience when working from home and change your scenery now and then. Ask questions of those around you, even if it’s just, “Where did you find that mug?” Your day and mood will be brighter with an occasional interaction beyond your own household.
You can connect with Nikki online or by visiting the Haven Mansion.
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