Monday, March 20, 2006

Celebrity Ambassador? Me?!

I wrote a piece on celebrity ambassadors for the Link, for their cultural diversity issue.

When I pitched the story, I was told to steer away from "celebrity X is amazing because he/she supports cause Y" and intead say that "Celebrity X supports the latest cause, Y, but why? what's the effect?"

Well, of course, I felt compelled to give some background. Here's my finish product:

Famous Faces Shed Light on Humanitarian Issues

Celebrity ambassadors play important role in spreading the word

By Naila Jinnah

Angelina Jolie does it. So do Alyssa Milano, Lucy Liu, and Clay Aiken. Even Giorgio Armani does it.

No, it’s not sex. Although we’re sure they do that too!

They are all celebrity ambassadors for the United Nations. As faces known by millions around the world, their role is to bring public attention to the issues of third world countries or countries devastated by war or natural disasters.

For Alyssa Milano (Charmed, Who’s the Boss?), the journey began in 2003 when she was invited by the United States Fund for UNICEF to become a national ambassador. She became the official spokesperson of the 2004 “Trick or Treat” campaign that encourages kids to carry orange UNICEF boxes and collect funds for the less fortunate during their rounds on Halloween night.

Milano has always been interested in humanitarian aid, even before teaming up with UNICEF. "I think that the celebrity is a really important thing,” she says in her profile on the UNICEF website, “because we have the voice that's recognizable, that can educate people to make a difference and empower them to make a difference, and to also get things in motion with the people in charge that can effect change."

On the other hand, Angelina Jolie (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Girl Interrupted), approached UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to learn more about humanitarian action for refugees. Her duties as a goodwill ambassador include travelling the world to meet with and advocate for the protection of refugees on all continents.

“You go to these places and you realize what life's really about and what people are really going through,” she said after her first mission in 2001. “These people are my heroes."

Jolie, who insists on covering all the costs associated with her visits, believes everyone can make a difference.

So why, then, are celebrity ambassadors important? Do they really make a difference, or is it all about the media coverage?

“Negative stereotyping, hatred and violence can be fought by spreading awareness,” said Jolie in Have Your Say interview on the BBC last April.

“Fortunately I have seen concrete success. For example I was very vocal about a particular camp that was going to be closed, forcing many people back into danger,” she explained. “I fought with others and it was not closed. In other cases I have seen schools, homes and wells built that I funded.”

“But the most rewarding aspect are the letters I receive from young people from around the world who want to tell me they are joining the fight to help others, and that they will educate themselves and do what they can.”

“They give me more hope for our future.”


UNICEF Celebrity Ambassadors -

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors -


476 words


So what do you think?

The feedback I got was as follows:

Hey Naila,
thanks for your submission. Unfortunately, it's not
what we were hoping you would write about. The advice
we gave you was to steer away from
a "look at celebrity X and the great things
they're doing for the world" and instead go for
something like "celebrity X is the proud spokesperson
for Cause du Jour Y. Does it make a difference and is
X taking on Cause Y for the right reasons?".
We were looking for a critical text about celebrity
endorsements of social causes, but you didn't provide
any criticism or analysis in your article. It is
really one-sided, and for this reason we won't be able
to publish it in this week's issue.
We regret not informing you about this earlier, we are
three coordinating this issue, and we were sure that
one of us had e-mailed you about this already. We
would have liked to ask you to change your article and
add some meat to it, but now time is too short for us
to ask you for changes. We are still willing to post
your article onto our website, at
Let us know if you would like for this to be done.
Sorry once again for not informing you earlier, have a
good evening.

Here's my question. How the hell was I supposed to do that in less then 7 open business days, so with the limited information that's available online. It's not as if anyone did studies on celebrity ambassadors. Sure, I could have had an external/professional voice. If only there was one.

But there wasn't. So I thought it would be cool to see what the ambassadors thought the effect of their work was. And in that way, with that angle, my story was complete. In the 400-500 word limit too. It's my honest opinion.

But I want yours. So drop me a line, let me know what you think...

And for the record, I told them to post it. Stay tuned for a link... not that you need it ;)

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