ANALYSIS: Client Profile - New leadership keeps Amnesty's candleburning. Amnesty International was one of the most popular causes in the'80s...

In 1989, no cause was cooler than Amnesty International. It's Human

Rights Now! tour, featuring the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Sting,

was the summer's hottest ticket in over a dozen countries.

Amnesty had caught one of those lucky breaks in time when its message

reflected the mood of an era. It was, quite simply, hipper than any

multinational nonprofit organization had any right to be.

Twelve years later, things have cooled off a bit. Of course, with over a

million members worldwide - its best numbers ever - no one is sounding

the death knell for this now 40-year-old group, but even its director of

communications, Karen Schneider, admits that Amnesty's public image is a

pale reflection of what it once was.

Schneider, previously a nonprofit consultant, says, "I came in with a

mandate to recreate the department - to make it far more proactive,

dynamic, and energetic, and therefore help raise visibility."

Her appointment two-and-a-half years ago was prompted by a

recommendation from Fenton Communications. Amnesty's marketing staff had

"not really jelled as a vibrant, dynamic department (for some time),"

says Schneider, so Fenton recommended bringing in someone senior to pull

together all the departments.

The former regional newspaper reporter claims she practically rebuilt

the department from scratch. "I came and I quickly plunged into making a

new structure and a new budget," she recalls. "First I focused on

building up the infrastructure and the media relations unit, because

there really weren't any systems at all. We didn't even have a system

for logging media calls - someone was using a yellow legal pad."

When she arrived, the Amnesty communications staff numbered eight people

and operated with a $900,000 budget. In the fiscal year beginning

October 2001, Schneider will be hiring two more staff members, bringing

the total to 17 employees and the operating budget to $2.2


The communications operation is now divided into three groups: media

relations, marketing/advertising, and new media (Amnesty's Web site can

be found at

As part of her mission to reclaim the elusive "buzz," there are plans to

debut a new artist relations division. This unit is forming largely to

service a new mini-group within the organization, 'Artists for


"I think through the concerts we became very identified with musical

artists, but we've also had literary artists and film people who've

worked on our behalf," she says. Artists for Amnesty is expected to

launch later this year.

A new image for an old fight

Along the way, Schneider also decided that Amnesty could stand to go

through a branding audit, executed pro-bono by NY advertising firm

Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

That led to the current branding campaign, complete with new ads and

signature earth-tone colors, which now adorn everything from the

organization's Web site to its marketing materials and business


The print ads, which began running in January, feature the pictures and

stories of everyday people who have taken action against human rights

abuses. "Most people feel that human rights problems are very far

removed from their own lives, they feel powerless," says Schneider.

"We surmised that we needed an ad campaign that spoke to

college-educated people between 25 and 50 who had some understanding of

issues and social policy. We wanted to communicate to them that they can

actually make a difference - that really simple actions can lead to

fundamental change."

Spreading the message

If Amnesty has a problem, it's the lack of high-profile prisoners like

Nelson Mandela. But there's still plenty to trouble the conscience of


Amnesty's current campaign focuses on stopping torture. That effort

includes talking to reporters, holding events centered on the theme, and

incorporating anti-torture activists into promotional materials.

The newest project is something called FAST: Fast Action Stops


FAST is an online network that sends out electronic notices to all

subscribers - Amnesty members or otherwise - about the pending plight of

torture victims.

When Amnesty learns of someone who is being tortured or is at risk of

being tortured, an email is shot out to participants around the world

telling them what they can do to take action. The idea is that torturers

require secrecy, and when their actions are exposed, the torture is less

likely to take place.

While motivating action among the public is tough, garnering press is a

little easier. This is due largely to the fact that reporters see the

nonprofit as one of the most reliable and respected authorities on human

rights cases throughout the world.

Chris Marquez, a general assignment writer for The New York Times, says

Amnesty is "one of two calls you make when trying to get up to speed on

the human rights record of a given country. I'll ordinarily check with

the State Department Human Rights Report and then touch base with either

Amnesty or Human Rights Watch. When you do that, you get a reasonably

well-rounded idea of what the issues are."

As for outside PR help, Amnesty is happy to accept it when it's offered,

but is rarely able to pay for it, and has no agency of record. Two

DC-based agencies that have pitched in recently are McKinney & McDowell

Associates and PR Solutions. McKinney helped out with 1999's campaign

against American human rights violations while PR Solutions worked on

the launch of a recent report on women and torture.

But even more exciting to Schneider is the recent efforts of Jere

Sullivan, managing director of Edelman PR's Washington, DC office.

Sullivan has recruited other PR execs from across the country onto an

unofficial communications advisory board, which is just getting


Sullivan says, "So many of Amnesty's issues are big and broad; I thought

it might be helpful for Karen to gain the perspective of some of the

people in our industry, who would approach the issues as if we were

selling a brand."

Though Sullivan is not a member of Amnesty yet, he still has the form on

his desk. He came to know the organization through his work with Edelman

client Bacardi, which "strategically" donates beverages every year to

Amnesty events.

As for the future, Amnesty is planning a concert for later this year in

Los Angeles. Schneider isn't ready to talk about which artists will


But hasn't Amnesty already done the concert thing? "It's not that you

want to go back to the past and recreate the concerts of the '80s. But I

want to energize us again so people are talking about us in the streets

and at cocktail parties - wherever people congregate."




ADVERTISING: Helen Garrett



ARTIST LIAISON: Bonnie Abaunza


ANNUAL PR BUDGET: $2.2 million for 2001/2002

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