Simon Gwynn
Feb 4, 2020

Amnesty International restructures global comms team as agency

Move is consequence of cuts in NGO's global operations and follows branding exercise last year.

Amnesty International: supported campaign to legalise abortion in Argentina
Amnesty International: supported campaign to legalise abortion in Argentina

Amnesty International has restructured its central communications and marketing team, which is based in London, into an agency model that will respond to briefs from the human-rights organisation’s 70 national offices around the world. 

The new structure is led by Amnesty’s director of marketing and communications, Osama Bhutta (pictured). Functions that previously sat in different parts of the organisation have been brought together under Bhutta’s leadership; as well as his existing remit of media relations, brand and creative, he is now also in charge of engagement, acquisition, growth and supporter experience.

Although the changes meant significant job cuts in the international secretariat (Amnesty's global division, which has offices in 12 cities), Bhutta said: "Where we primarily cut was at director level – there’s fewer managers but the people at the coal face doing the work, we tried to protect as much as possible." One new role created was a head of creative, filled since September by Jim Ward, previously head of video. 

The move was made necessary by cost-cutting last year in the international secretariat. Although Amnesty's overall financial support has been going up, it took the decision to reduce the size of the international secretariat to shift more power over resources and decision-making to the national offices. 

Bhutta told Campaign that the restructure reflects the kind of organisation Amnesty needed to be in today’s world. "In the last decade or so, there’s been quite rapid expansion of our operations in the Global South – because we cannot be seen as an organisation any more lecturing the Global South from London.

"The world has changed and the optics of London, DC or western Europe wagging fingers at the rest of the world not only doesn’t look good, it doesn’t work. These governments either don’t have the leverage, don’t use it or don’t have the moral authority. The solidarity of people in the Global North is still important, but it’s not enough."

A graphic of US president Donald Trump created after he refused to act on gun laws

The restructure follows a brand overhaul carried out last year that former head of brand Thomas Coombes told Campaign was about "making human rights popular", by shifting towards messaging that championed positive action, rather than focusing completely on ongoing injustice. That process was led "bottom up" by Amnesty’s national offices and the same thinking will now inform how Bhutta’s team works.

"The kind of support the movement expects is not typical headquarters top-down directives," he said. "We have so many offices around the world because positive change needs to be driven from the ground. So the movement needs an agency from its global team, not a typical headquarters comms operation.

"Our offices on the ground know their contexts, and where we can help them is with a more sophisticated degree of audience analysis, smart messaging, the creative to go with it and a greater ability to get it to where it needs to go."

Bhutta pointed to SudanAlgeriaHong Kong and various countries in South America as recent examples of "the impact that people power is having in the world".

But he said the challenge for organisations such as Amnesty is to "compete for the hearts of and minds of the people against powerful people who don’t respect human rights and humanity. Appeals to bigotry and xenophobia have used sophisticated techniques to manipulate public opinion in the last few years. Our side needs to raise its game."

Campaign UK

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