Interview: Jane Cooper

The director of communications and brand at Unicef UK says charity comms has benefited from the influx of private and public sector talent

Jane Cooper
Jane Cooper

Jane Cooper has just completed her first year as director of communications and brand at the children's charity Unicef UK. "Who wouldn't want to work for the world's children?" she says. "It beats Whitehall hands down."

Cooper was previously director of communications at the Department for Culture Media and Sport and, before that, the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Her move to Unicef also brought her 20-year career back towards its beginnings at Amnesty International.

"I learnt a huge amount in Whitehall," she says. "I was often surprised by how dynamic and committed many politicians and civil servants were. I miss being on the front pages across Whitehall, sometimes for good stories we'd been promoting and other times for managing a difficult story - but I still get that with Unicef."

The charity has recently enjoyed an unprecedentedly high profile after a restructure of the communications and brand department, led by Cooper. Cold Chain Mission, a BBC2 TV programme, showed the actor Ewan McGregor, a Unicef ambassador, delivering vaccines in Nepal and India. ITV1 broadcast the charity's Soccer Aid fundraiser, and it has partnerships with large companies such as Marks & Spencer and Ikea.

"We have a fantastic communications team and they have gone from being really good to even better," she says. "The challenge was to focus on the bigger picture, bringing together fundraising and public affairs."

In their external communications, Cooper says, charities need to innovate continuously and try multi-channel strategies to compete with other charities, businesses and organisations now taking a stronger role in the charity world, such as universities. "The challenge is to cut through this, and the key thing was to build a stronger Unicef brand function," she says.

A characteristic of the charity sector she particularly likes is its active engagement with supporters and its interaction with people. But she believes that it can learn from Whitehall when it comes to social change campaigns, such as the Department of Health's Change4Life healthy lifestyles campaign and the Department for Education's Frank drug campaign.

"It is all about understanding who the supporters and the audiences are, and Whitehall does this well," she says. "It is important to respond to the audience, who might be different from you."

She believes voluntary sector communications have become more professional in recent years, probably because more people have joined charities from the private and public sectors. "This revolving door is a very positive change because there is always something to learn and bring from elsewhere," she says.

Looking ahead, Cooper thinks digital media will continue to be a challenge because charities will need to be aware of how innovation can improve their operations. She says: "A personal challenge for me is to keep the great people that we have at Unicef, and to work at retaining and adding value to them in terms of leadership in charity communications."

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