Whether by securing placements in each section of the paper or displaying her sense of humor at workshops, Lisa Navarrete is working to build awareness of the National Council of La Raza's mission.
Lisa Navarrete, VP of public information for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), likes to measure the diverse range of issues on which she has worked by tracking where her name has appeared in the newspaper.
"USA Today has four different sections - Sports, Life, Money, and the front page - and I've been quoted in all four," Navarrete notes. "We've weighed in on everything from diversity in baseball to diversity in Hollywood to how banks should be reaching out to the Latino community. It's reflective of the kind of impact that the Latino community is having in all kinds of areas."
Although initially hired as a senior civil rights policy analyst, Navarrete was quickly tapped by NCLR executives to head the communications department when they decided to build a PR capacity in the late 1980s. "She's been running it ever since," says Cecilia Munoz, NCLR's VP for policy. "During that time, we've become the most visible Latino institution in the country."
Looking back on her 16 years as head of communications for NCLR, Navarrete appreciates the increased exposure that the organization has garnered in the media. "We're at the apex of coverage of the Latino community," she says. "But that's not saying a lot."
Given its size and the role that it has played in shaping American society, the Latino community should have generated a larger profile by now, she says. "It's amazing how people could be so clueless about a community that numbers 40 million," she adds.
The media still perpetuate many misconceptions about Latinos, which easily translate into misconceptions about Latino organizations. For example, Navarrete spends more time than she prefers addressing immigration.
"People believe immigration dominates our organization," she says. "It does if you look at the coverage [we get]. But it's really not the primary issue for either the community or for us."
Navarrete says NCLR has been trying for years to break through the media's one-dimensional perception of Latinos. "How do we get people to understand that there are a host of issues we are concerned about, that this is a community that has long, long roots in this country?" she asks.
Inside NCLR's office of public information, a small staff has been working to raise awareness of the organization's efforts. Navarrete supervises five people. She also oversees the organization's graphic design and quality control departments. In recent years, the organization earmarked a larger share of its annual budget to the public information office, which has allowed Navarrete to hire new communications personnel.
During her time as a communications exec, Navarrete says, she hasn't had much contact with professional PR associations. "It's been a time issue, due to not having a big enough staff," she says.
Before she took over as communications chief for NCLR, Navarrete had been immersed in policy issues affecting the Latino community. Aside from working in NCLR's policy shop for one year, she served as a legislative assistant for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and worked in the office of former Rep. Robert Garcia of New York. Before entering the workforce, Navarrete had enrolled in a PhD program in political science at Johns Hopkins University, but decided to stop with a master's degree in international relations.
NCLR had previously hired people with journalism backgrounds to run its communications operations. "They were not that familiar with the [Latino] community, nor with the issues that we work on, and had varying levels of success," Navarrete says. "The idea with bringing me on was to get someone very well-versed in the community and on the issues, but who just needed to be trained to do the communications work. That seems to have made a lot of sense to do this kind of work."
Founded in 1968, NCLR functions as an advocate in DC for Latinos, a community that has emerged in the past decade as the largest minority group of Americans. NCLR also conducts research and analysis on various topics that affect the community and assists Latinos across the US through a formal network of affiliates involved in a variety of efforts, including providing citizenship services, running charters schools, and teaching English.
NCLR is currently developing its first branding and communications effort to reach out to "rank-and-file" Latinos who are not as familiar with the organization as are policy-makers inside the Beltway. It plans to complete a draft-branding plan by mid-2006.
"We serve as a voice for this community, and we want [them] to know we're out there doing this work," Navarrete says. "It's almost treating the organization like a product."
Building a brand identity for an entity with multiple missions is a formidable task. Navarrete, though, has always had her eye on the big picture, says Douglas Rivlin, communications director for the National Immigration Forum.
Navarrete successfully "translates policy-speak into newspaper-speak," Rivlin says. "As a pop-culture junkie, TV junkie, and a news junkie, she understands how the news media work. Lisa is very good at making the minutia of policy accessible and putting it in a way that tells a story," he adds.
Navarrete and Rivlin - whom the latter describes as a pair of "repressed stand-up comedians" - have conducted training sessions in which they try to prepare members and affiliate groups to communicate effectively with the press.
"Lisa brings a focus on the issues and on the organization's mission with some real media savvy and humor," Munoz says. "She does a great Latina version of [David] Letterman's routine."
In addition to functioning as the office comedian, Navarrete has helped to shape NCLR's policy positions, given her dual roles as VP of public information and as a member of the executive board. "I have a strong attraction to issues and can combine that with communications," she explains. The opportunity at NCLR to make policy and then develop strategies for communicating the policy is "what keeps me in the nonprofit world," she says.
VP of public information, National Council of La Raza
Deputy VP of public information, NCLR
Director of public information, NCLR
Senior civil rights policy analyst, NCLR
Senior legislative assistant,
Congressman Robert Garcia (D-NY)
Legislative assistant, Congressional Hispanic Caucus