PROFILE: Anita Tiessen, UNICEF - Championing human rights. Anita Tiessen prepares to give UNICEF a new corporate perspective

Anita Tiessen’s pedigree in the public sector stretches all the way toanitoba, where she launched a career in the PR as a communications officer for the Provincial Government.

Anita Tiessen’s pedigree in the public sector stretches all the way

toanitoba, where she launched a career in the PR as a communications

officer for the Provincial Government.

To the casual observer, this may seem a long way from her new

London-based job as head of communications for the UK Committee of the

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), where she heads up an 11-strong

team created by the recent merger of the press and information


But there is little doubt that she is well qualified for the role after

eight years at Amnesty International’s UK-based head office, where her

rise through the ranks coincided with major structural changes at the


Her job at UNICEF, which has its global headquarters in New York and

operates in 161 countries, will be to continue to raise its profile in

the ’corporate sphere’ and among consumers. In the UK the organisation

raises about pounds 10 million a year. ’My role will be to take the work

that UNICEF has done on branding and turn it into a communications

strategy that makes it clearer that we are making money for the UN, not

taking it from them,’ says Tiessen.

Part of this will involve promoting the cause-related marketing

programmes developed with corporate partners, the most successful of

which is British Airways’ Change for Good which in four years has raised

over pounds 6 million by encouraging air passengers to donate spare

foreign currency. There will also be communications work designed to

highlight specific UNICEF campaigns. This year the big theme has been

Children in Conflict, emphasising the plight of children in war-ravaged

areas. The next major campaign will concentrate on children growing up

alone, encompassing AIDS orphans, refugees, abandoned babies and street


Celebrity supporters of the charity, to whose ranks pop singer Robbie

Williams has recently been added, will be used to raise interest among

private donors. But there is also a vital role liaising with


Although the Department for International Development has increased the

Government’s core financial contribution to UNICEF’s long-term

development work by 17 per cent, generosity cannot be taken for granted

and there is a continual need to inform MPs and other opinion-shapers

about the charity’s activities.

In her eight years at Amnesty, Tiessen built up a considerable insight

into human rights issues which should prove very useful given that in

recent years UNICEF has attached greater weight to campaigning for

children’s rights. But she feels her biggest achievement at Amnesty was

to raise the importance with which media relations was regarded.

’When I arrived at Amnesty the attitude was that media relations was a

necessary evil. By the time I left people recognised it could advance a

political agenda and raise money. Communications moved from being a poor

cousin to the high table,’ she says. When she arrived the head of media

reported to a director who also oversaw publications, translation and

distribution. Following a restructure in 1995, Tiessen was appointed

director of an independent media and audio visual department, reporting

directly to one of the charity’s deputy directors. And the size of her

team doubled from four to eight.

Amnesty International campaigns director Andrew Anderson confirms the

assertion. ’Anita moved Amnesty away from being quite reactive to having

a media strategy. She helped take us into the 1990s if not the 21st


Tiessen’s media career began as a journalistic all-rounder on local

newspapers in Canada. From there she moved into PR for the Provincial

Government of Manitoba and finally to Amnesty. The fact that Anita

Tiessen has forged a career in the voluntary sector comes as no surprise

when one considers her background. She hails from Winnipeg in the heart

of Canada and was brought up in the Mennonite faith - an unconventional

Protestant sect that as well as rejecting infant baptism advocates doing

good deeds for others.

She is now firmly settled in the UK, having last year married a British

solicitor. In her spare time she keeps herself busy as a volunteer tour

guide at Highgate Cemetery.

A return to Manitoba seems highly unlikely. ’If they leave Winnipeg,

people don’t go back,’ she explains simply.


1987: Communications officer, Provincial Government of Manitoba

1990: International press officer, Amnesty International

1994: Media and audiovisual programme director, Amnesty International

1998: Head of communications, UNICEF

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