How we are ‘communicating as one’ in Iran

BY Gary Lewis | July 7, 2015|Comments 2

Public communications can be challenging in Iran, the country where I work. But we must be visible. Why? If we can show people that we are doing good work – and demonstrate that the United Nations is here to support Iran’s development and humanitarian agenda – Iranians will come to better appreciate the UN’s contribution inside Iran. So will those outside Iran. Partnerships will expand. And the political environment will become more conducive to funding more good work.
Here are 10 ways we are communicating as one, using a communications plan approved by the UN Country Team in Iran:

1. Engage key audiences proactively

Public communications efforts deliver messages designed to reach specific external audiences: the general public, the media, government, potential funding partners (including Iranian diaspora and local private sector), civil society and the general public.

2. Use UN agency Speakers’ Notes as a common script

Opportunities for public speaking are actively pursued. (Check out a recent TEDx event where I discuss the linkages between the environment and human security.) Each of the 18 UN agencies in Iran prepare a set of talking points, outlining the key messages they want me to get across in any interview I have with the media on their issues. Furthermore, we have agreed scripts on cross-cutting issues like human rights, gender empowerment and youth.

3. Celebrate UN Days ― last year we celebrated around 30.

We select those ‘International Days’ which connect with our ongoing development and humanitarian work. And we celebrate them. This allows us to hook onto a globally-celebrated day and then point to what the UN is doing on the ground in Iran. At the beginning of the year, the agencies plan to take the lead in organizing an activity for a specific day.

4. Give media interviews – frequently

As the Resident Coordinator, I am often joined by agency heads who feel comfortable speaking with the press. We give frequent interviews with local and international media. Press releases and press briefing are structured media interactions that are used less frequently, e.g. when high-profile UN visitors come to Iran or when we have a report to launch.

5. Make the most of websites

Almost every one of our 18 UN agencies runs their own website. Material from each of these sites is cross-linked to the UN Iran site. We average 70 stories each month on the UN Iran site.

6. Broadcast a regular E-Burst to friends worldwide

At the end of each month we send out an e-mail with photos and links to stories to 1,500 recipients, including government officials, development partners, the private sector, media and civil society. Each issue begins with a brief overview of the preceding month’s events: one column in English; one column in Farsi. Readers can skim down the list of stories and open the links to the stories that interest them.

7. Use social media to greatly magnify messages

If the UN is not visible through social media channels, no one will know about the great work we are doing. This will hurt our ability to share good practices, and it will hurt our ability to raise funds to expand the great work. The material that goes onto the website is also broadcast our other social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

8. Pay attention to quality control and speed

Originally, I used to review all stories going up on the website before posting. But as time passed, others have assumed the quality control role with excellent results. As a rule we try to get up a story on any event within 24 hours. Speed is of the essence in conveying freshness and relevance. We have an enthusiastic and energetic UN communications team drawn from the UN agencies, which drives the process.

9. Try to use multiple languages

In Iran, we try to run as many stories as possible in both English and Farsi. We are getting better at writing and Tweeting in both languages.

10. Monitor the results of public communications activities

We are planning a Client Satisfaction Survey for our key audiences, using our 1,500 member E-Burst mailing list database. Proxy indicators can speak to scope and impact. The number of website hits is one example, along with data on the hit’s country of origin, length of time the visitor stayed, number of pages visited. We also track the number of stories we manage to place in the media.

What do you think? How is Communicating as One being applied in your country?


Gary Lewis Gary is the UN Resident Coordinator in Iran. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Taonga Mshanga says:

    Wow very inspiring. I hope Zambia can learn some best practices from Iran!

  2. Wolfgang Haas says:

    Thank you very much, Gary, for sharing this compelling set of concrete and practical communication activities. Communication is clearly not rocket science and has huge potential and leverage to put the UN at the centre of national development, as a distinct partner with unmatched assets and comparative advantages. Will share this here with the UNCG in Ethiopia for inspiration.

Leave a Comment