Meet Abbi Russell, Senior Communications Specialist
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born in Vancouver and raised in central Clark County. I spent most of my childhood fishing, camping, boating, riding horses, and skinning my knees. After six years living in the Carolinas and Georgia, where Uncle Sam sent me during my military service, I returned to Clark County. My husband and I now own a little house on a couple acres, about five miles as the crow flies from where we each grew up.
What do you do at MFA?
I’m a senior communications specialist in the Vancouver office. I work with our highly skilled teams to help our clients inform and engage their stakeholders and communities in productive ways so we can move projects and initiatives forward for the greater good. I also assist with meeting facilitation—a skill that involves ensuring everyone in a meeting gets the chance to make their voices heard while keeping to an agenda and achieving the goals our clients set for us. I’m passionate about the right and ability of all people to be engaged and make informed decisions about issues that impact them today and in the future. You can learn more about MFA’s communications team here.
What’s rewarding about your job?
There’s a significant problem-solving aspect to what I do. It’s really satisfying to hold a problem or project, turn it this way and that, look at it from all angles to understand how others see it, and strategize on approaches for the best overall outcome. I also love serving as translator for clients and communities. I’m sort of a middleman, helping organizations see how to reach their diverse audiences effectively and have a two-way dialogue. By default, that also makes me an advocate for stakeholders, ensuring they receive information in ways that make sense to them, so they can digest it and provide informed feedback. This helps lead to improved relationships and effective outcomes, and it can pave the way for future projects and initiatives, too.
Why is what you do important?
It seems easier to be reactionary when faced with challenging projects and issues, but it’s really the opposite. I’ve seen time and time again the positive results of proactive communications and outreach; even when it’s hard in the beginning, it’s always better and easier than trying to play catch up in the middle or at the end of a project. It’s a microcosm of democracy: it’s the messiest system around because there are so many players with different perspectives, but when you approach it from a place of equity and collaboration, the outcome is typically more reflective of the community’s true needs and goals, you have more buy-in, and the project goes more smoothly. As the saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but through thoughtful, strategic communications and outreach you can bring much of the community along and lay the foundation for a better future.
What skills do you bring to your work?
Language arts have always been my strongest point, and over the years I’ve developed the ability to translate the technical and political into something that educates, engages and strikes the right tone at the right time. I try to apply the many layers of who I am as a human being (local/country kid, blue-collar roots, military veteran, parent, involved citizen, property owner) to the ways I look at problems and projects, so I can understand what people may be thinking and explain not only what they want to know but what the client needs to get across. My diverse background in military, construction, transportation, and ports helps me understand the realities of both government agencies and private sector companies, so I can be an effective middleman who respects the challenges of all involved and finds a path that leads to constructive conversations and beneficial outcomes.
What do you like to do off the clock?
Between kids’ activities, family gatherings, and caring for our property, we stay pretty busy! But we try to fold some enjoyable stuff into that, like raising our own food (we have a garden, fruit trees, and chickens), canning, camping, and the occasional concert. When I get a free moment, I’ll pull out a good book and get lost for a while, watch a travel show, or take a yoga class.
If you were not a senior communications specialist, what would you be?
A writer! It’s been my calling since childhood and I feel fortunate that I get to scratch that itch quite a bit through my work at MFA. It’s deeply satisfying to me to express complex emotions and ideas through the written word, and to do it well.
What’s on your bucket list?
Writing at least one book; I have lots of ideas for children’s books and would also like to write a book that helps others with life challenges. I’d like to further research my and my husband’s genealogy and visit our ancestral lands, which include the Iberian Peninsula, Greece, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. And I’d like to learn to play the piano and guitar.