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Senior Director, Publications & Writing

Urban Institute

Urban Institute

Sales & Business Development
Washington, DC, USA
Posted on Friday, February 2, 2024

About Urban Institute

At the Urban Institute, we believe in the power of evidence to improve lives and strengthen communities. As a nonprofit focusing on social and economic policy, our researchers and policy entrepreneurs open minds, shape decisions, and identify transformative solutions to the most pressing issues of our time.

Our Mission

To open minds, shape decisions, and offer solutions through economic and social policy research.

Our Values

Collaboration, Equity, Inclusivity, Independence, and Integrity. For more information on the Urban Institute, please visit https://www.urban.org.

The Opportunity

The Senior Director of Publications and Writing will oversee the planning, development, and execution of Urban’s publications, editorial and writing strategies. The Senior Director will play a vital role in expanding the impact of the Institute’s work including growing our storytelling capacities, advancing our use of digital publications, and connecting communications strategies with policy impact strategies across the organization. Reporting directly to the Chief Communications Officer and Vice President for Strategic Communications, the Senior Director of Publications and Writing will be responsible for driving organizational change in support of Urban’s goals for increased visibility, engagement, and impact.

The Senior Director of Publications and Writing will oversee editing and writing for an active pipeline of more than 500 products annually, ranging from fact sheets to 200-page reports and publication abstracts to journalistic features, blogs, and interactive data tools. They will work with 16 in-house editors and writers, along with a stable of freelancers, to enforce Urban standards for accuracy and quality while also creating clear, accurate, and engaging content that informs Urban’s core audiences of policymakers, journalists, funders, and engaged citizens on a wide range of social policy and equity issues. In addition, the Senior Director will develop strategies for implementing institutional priorities around the use of inclusive language and other Urban DEI initiatives encompassed in Urban’s Race and Equity Framework.

What You'll Do

Reporting to the Chief Communications Officer and Vice President for Strategic Communications and serving as an integral member of the Communications senior leadership team, the Senior Director will develop, integrate and implement a broad range of initiatives aimed at increasing audience engagement with Urban’s content and leveraging storytelling and digital publishing to contribute to shaping national discussions on social policy and equity issues. The Senior Director will also create impact within Urban by leading and driving organizational change efforts in collaboration with other department leaders designed to enhance Urban’s writing capacity and storytelling techniques and will collaborate with the Data Visualization and Design teams to enhance the overall impact of Urban’s publications.

Team Administration

  • Leads team of editors and writers to translate and bring the insights and stories of Urban’s research to life for key audiences.

  • Mentors team employees and provides opportunities for growth and professional development.

  • Directs and oversees team operations, including recruitment, retention, and maintenance of sufficient staffing levels and utilizations; enhancing internal team workflows; and developing and managing budgets and contracts.

  • Acts as a catalyst to drive continuous improvement of key Comms processes.

Storytelling Strategy

  • Develops and implements an integrated, strategic storytelling plan in coordination with the Director of Data Visualization and other senior Comms leaders to advance Urban’s impact on policy and practice with key audiences through written products.

  • Conducts strategic environmental scans, identifying opportunities, challenges and emerging issues.

  • Works with leadership team and staff to recognize internal and external storytelling opportunities and solutions and to define and execute appropriate strategies to support them.

Editorial Services and Writing Services

  • Works with and oversees senior editors to provide editorial services for all Urban publications, products, and collateral material, enforcing Urban standards for accuracy and quality.

  • Works with and oversees Director, Writing Services to identify strategies that best convey Urban’s research findings and insights, tell compelling stories, and make data accessible and relevant to target audiences.

  • Works with the Senior Director of Digital Communications to devise and execute a comprehensive strategy to transition the organization to digital first publishing.

  • Directs all writing and editing services for executive team communications, coordinating required support with the writing and editing teams and writing for president and senior leaders as needed.

  • Works with the Director of Writing and senior editors to develop new products that maintain and expand Urban’s voice, reach and audience.

  • Supports the Director of Writing and senior editors in developing and delivering writing and editing training curriculum for Urban staff.

Institutional Editorial Standards

  • Works across the organization on institutional editorial policies, including authorship, cobranding, copyright, corrections, and licensing and permissions.

  • Sets Urban editorial style and standards.

  • Develops new Word-based publication types and templates.

  • Promotes Urban’s work on inclusive language; reviews and edits toolkits on researching and writing about various groups.

  • Sets Corrections and Retractions Policy in collaboration with senior research leaders and provides oversight for all corrections to Urban publications, in coordination with the Director of Writing Services.

  • Reviews and approves direct inquiries to reuse Urban content.

  • Advises Urban staff on differentiating institutionally copyrighted work and personally copyrighted work.

  • Oversees the process for maintaining records for the Urban Institute Press and maintaining the Urban Institute archive.

Reputation Management/Brand Protection

  • With the Senior Director of Brand and Audience Engagement, advises researchers on cobranding on Urban’s publications and ensures proper use of Urban’s logo on publications produced by outside organizations.

  • With the Senior Director of Brand and Audience Engagement, advises researchers on preserving Urban’s intellectual independence and engages with funders as needed to share Urban’s institutional editorial standards and funding principles.

Who You Are

Essential Skills

  • A visionary leader with a proven track record in steering publications departments towards innovative content strategies particularly in the policy research space.

  • An adaptable and dynamic leader who is adept at navigating the evolving landscape of digital publications, including in the context of AI, and incorporating emerging strategies into strategic communications and publications planning.

  • A leader committed to creating an inclusive culture and representative workplace, who embraces diversity of thought and experience.

  • A tenacious go-getter who’s excited by new challenges and stays positive in the face of adversity—and can translate those values to a team.

  • A strong written and verbal communicator, who is able to work with multiple groups and stakeholders and build cross-functional teams.

  • A superb project manager with the organizational skills to stay on deadline in a fast-paced environment.

  • A relationship builder who can quickly establish rapport internally and externally.

Technical Skills

  • Excellent organizational leadership skills with the ability to manage multiple teams working on a range of projects with multiple goals and deadlines.

  • Proven experience moving an organization toward a digital-first publishing model.

  • Excellent writing and editing skills with demonstrated ability to translate complex policy content for diverse audiences.

  • Strategic communications skills including audience engagement strategy in a mission-driven organizational culture.

  • Highly developed collaboration and relationship building skills including experience working across an organization with other leaders and program teams.

  • Extensive knowledge of current discussions and trends in English usage, including inclusive language.

  • Fluency in plain language and 508 accessibility requirements for federal work products, copyright and intellectual property, academic guidelines for authorship and citation software.

  • A keen, careful editorial eye, along with extensive knowledge of English grammar and punctuation rules; comprehensive knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style.

  • Proven ability to identify talent and build, mentor and lead a team.

  • Reputation management and brand management skills.

  • Non-profit management skills including annual budget planning, staff utilization planning, and familiarity with development strategies and revenue generation.

Preferred Knowledge

  • An advanced degree in English, journalism, publishing, or a related field, or commensurate experience.

  • Fifteen years minimum of well-rounded editorial and writing experience with a record of increasing responsibility.

  • Eight years minimum in a leadership position, such as director of publications, editorial services or writing, or similar role, ideally including experience integrating editing and writing functions.

  • Demonstrable experience supervising staff at various levels, with a focus on staff retention and development.

  • Editorial or writing experience in several of Urban’s research areas.

What You’ll Experience

No matter your role with Urban, you will contribute to meaningful work that makes a difference for people and communities across the country. Whether you call the Washington DC area or elsewhere home, you can expect to be part of a welcoming and hybrid workplace. We are committed to cultivating a community and working in a manner defined by collaboration, equity, inclusivity, independence and integrity.

The minimum salary for this position is $133,489. Salary offered is commensurate with experience and considers internal equity. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. Salaries are just one component of Urban Institute’s total compensation package. Urban is committed to supporting our staff’s physical, emotional, and financial well-being through a robust benefits package for yourself, eligible dependents, and domestic partners. It includes generous paid time off, including nine federal holidays, medical (including prescription), dental and vision insurance, and transit benefits. Urban is unique in that we offer 403(b) retirement plan participation immediately after you’re hired and a generous employer contribution after six months of service and 500 hours, with immediate vesting. You’ll also have access to a health advocate, personal finance coaching, an Employee Assistance Program, and educational assistance for undergraduate and graduate degree programs. This position has the opportunity to be fully remote.

The above statements are intended to describe the general nature and level of the work being performed by the people assigned. This posting is not an exhaustive list of all duties, responsibilities, and requirements. Urban management reserves the right to amend and change duties, responsibilities, and requirements to meet business and organizational needs as necessary.

The Urban Institute is an equal-opportunity employer and is committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace. All qualified candidates will receive consideration without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, gender or gender identity, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, veteran status, pregnancy or family responsibilities, matriculation, disability, political affiliation, or any other protected status under applicable law. The Urban Institute is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer Minorities/Women/Disabilities/Veterans.

We are committed to equal employment opportunity and providing reasonable accommodations to applicants with physical and/or mental disabilities. If you have a physical and/or mental disability and are interested in applying for employment and need special accommodations to use our website to apply for a position, please contact Human Resources at humanresources@urban.org. Reasonable accommodation requests are considered on a case-by-case basis.