Announcing the new Laureates: What’s behind the most globally anticipated day for Right Livelihood?
The embargo lifts at eight o’clock in the morning, four names are revealed in a press conference in Stockholm, and thousands of news articles are published about the new Right Livelihood Laureates in different formats and languages in a matter of hours. Is it just so quick and simple Of course not. The announcement follows weeks of intense work by Right Livelihood’s largest and most geographically spread-out team, the Communications Team, led from the Geneva office by Emoke Bebiak.
Texts in multiple languages, media strategies tailored to different target audiences, online conferences and spokespersons ready to respond to press inquiries are part of this meticulously orchestrated event, making this day the most exciting and externally anticipated day of the year. Are you curious how it all comes together? Get a glimpse from behind the scenes as we are preparing to unveil the 2023 Right Livelihood Laureates!
Right Livelihood: You are the leader of Right Livelihood’s biggest team, the Communications team, and the announcement period is your moment. Why is it such a big deal to reveal four new Laureates each year?
Emoke Bebiak: The announcement is the central event for our media work, but I would go as far as to say it is also one of the major milestones for Right Livelihood’s life each year. We are principally an award. We do many other things, such as providing long-term support and protecting Laureates, but our relationship with the Laureates starts with the announcement. So, the one month leading up to us publicising the names that our Jury had picked is a very intense period where we create communications packages that go out to journalists worldwide. And in some ways, it’s the first time many of these Laureates will be in the global media limelight. So we want to ensure that everything is well prepared, that everybody knows how things will go, and that we provide all the information needed for the journalists, so that this can be a very smooth and joyful process.
RL: What else does it involve for the comms team to prepare for the announcement? What are your tasks? How do you organise or divide the job?
EB: First, we find out the names of the four new Laureates and start getting to know them. Of course, we quickly analyse the topics they’re working on and where they’re from regionally. And that gets us already thinking, as the communications team has wonderful colleagues around the world who are responsible for specific regions. That is, of course, one significant consideration as to how we approach the new Laureates and publicise them.
Another big part is providing audiovisual material because we understand that often, pictures communicate so much better what a person does. That comes on top of our written material, which goes out to journalists and is also put on our website. There, we explain to the world who the Laureates are, why the Jury decided to pick them this year and what accomplishments the Jury saw as groundbreaking.
RL: Most comms team members have never met or even heard about the new Laureates before, and you have a short time to learn a lot about these people or organisations to communicate about them to a large audience. How do you do that?
EB: We don’t start with a blank slate: we stand on the shoulders of giants, our Research Team. So, we know their work’s main points and highlights. And it’s the Jury report based on which we work to develop our communications material that is meticulous and well written. So, the question is turning that research, which often spans 5 or 10 pages, into a much shorter biography of each Laureate.
RL: Do you need to change a lot of working routines during announcement time compared to the rest of the year? And if so, what does it change?
EB: Yes, definitely for the communications team, the four-and-a-half-week period between the Jury decision and the announcement of the new Laureates is a very, very intense period. And this is when the announcement takes precedence over all the other areas we work on. It is a marathon that we are running—a very, very long marathon. Every day, we must reach certain mileposts for the rest of the process to go smoothly. It’s a very intense period but also a very rewarding one. It’s always fascinating to first read about the Laureates, then have a call with them and get to know them more personally. So it’s an inspiring experience. It’s also a very stressful experience at times, we’re pretty exhausted by the announcement. But it’s always an enjoyable day. We often get very positive feedback from the Laureates themselves about what it was like to be recognised for their work, and we get a lot of questions and calls from media from around the world.
RL: What is that a successful announcement?
EB: I would say a successful announcement, first of all, is an announcement that happens. So, if we get to send out the press releases on the announcement day, I would very much consider that a success. Seeing journalists’ interests from around the world is something I would consider successful, as well. That we can command that kind of media attention to the new Laureates is very rewarding and a huge responsibility. Because it means that every word we say in our press releases and biographies needs to be absolutely correct and double-checked and triple-checked. It’s a huge responsibility to get everything right. But thanks to the whole Right Livelihood staff and the Laureates, who each help with proofreading, we do. It’s impressive to see those stories, those words and quotes we gathered from the Laureates be picked and spread worldwide.
RL: That’s a success. And if it were to go wrong, what bad things could happen?
EB: Well, that’s a tricky question because there are situations that are complicated and then there are scenarios when things have gone wrong. A complicated scenario is when we have a Laureate in prison, which was the case in 2020 with Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran, making it very hard for us to communicate with her. Also, we must be very cautious in thinking about the impact and ensuring that the visibility will help the Laureates rather than make things more difficult for them in their countries if they are in prison. So, that’s a problematic scenario. Thankfully, our Protection team is on board even before the announcement to help ensure that we do not cause harm.
And then, of course, the terrible scenario is a leak, or if something happens to a Laureate. So, in those cases, we always have to have a contingency plan and be ready to go out to the media as soon as possible. And I’m confident that within the comms team, we have the experience to do that and to make sure that even if something that we consider terrible were to happen, we would still be able to handle it.
RL: An alarming possibility you mentioned, a leak, indeed occurred in 2014. It was before you joined Right Livelihood but for sure you were told about this. What is the narrative or, let’s say, the institutional memory around that announcement?
EB: As far as I can understand, someone with knowledge about Edward Snowden being a new Right Livelihood Laureate leaked it to the press, which of course at the time, caused a pretty big media interest. And if I remember correctly, the comms team went out with the news right away, confirming that he was indeed a Right Livelihood Laureate. To me, this story really symbolises how delicate we have to be with this kind of information. It’s very, very important that we only share the news under embargo with really trusted contacts. We do work a lot with embargoed material because we find that gives time to journalists to cover us better. But it’s really important that they are people that we trust. Because it’s not just about Right Livelihood, it’s really, most importantly, about the Laureate and making sure that they are safe and ready when the announcement comes.
RL: How was your first announcement?
EB: My first announcement was in 2020. To my absolute delight, the laureates were Nasrin Sotoudeh, Bryan Stevenson – whom I really admired and had already known about for years -, Alex Bialiatski and Lottie Cunningham. So that was an exciting experience. I think it helped to have a general structure from previous years that I could rely on. And then over the years, I think we have refined the process even more so that everybody knows exactly what they’re doing. We have a good rhythm. And it works even better year after year.
RL: What does announcement day look like in Stockholm?
EB: It’s a very early day for us all because we have to be at the studio where the announcement happens early in the morning to start at eight o’clock, Central European Time. And, of course, it’s always filled with excitement about what’s ahead. We make the announcement, and there are a couple of minutes of “Oh, okay, well, this is done.” And then we start seeing the articles online. After that, we start receiving media requests for the Laureates. It depends on where the Laureate is geographically, so we have a system where different comms team members focus on different Laureates.
And what we also started doing last year and has been quite successful with is organising online press conferences with the Laureates a couple of hours after the announcement, giving Laureates a chance to speak to several journalists at the same time. Having a press conference online is very easy because journalists can join from anywhere. Towards the afternoon in Stockholm, we start getting ready because we have a mingling event at the Right Livelihood house with a lot of civil society in attendance. That’s really a true celebration and a crowning moment of the day after our hard work. It’s a lovely event where we get to celebrate the new Laureates together with our friends.
The main faces you would see on an announcement day are the four new Laureates and our Executive Director, Ole von Uexkull, who does a lot of media appearances. But we also have members of the Jury and previous Laureates who serve as spokespeople. They are prepared to talk to the media about Right Livelihood and the Laureates in various languages and across many time zones.
RL: You mentioned civil society attending the mingle in the house, so the announcement is not only about the media then.
EB: Sometimes, it feels like much of the comms team is working to prepare material for journalists. But in reality, we also prepare information for the general public. We get a lot of attention from our followers through our social media, including civil society and people who have long been inspired by Right Livelihood Laureates. Of course, we keep those audiences in mind as well. And it means a lot if, on the day of the announcement, we get feedback from people who feel excited about the Laureates. So we always encourage our followers who might not be journalists to be just as involved and engaged with our announcement process because the announcement is very much for them and not just for journalists.
RL: What is the most rewarding thing at the end of the day?
EB: I think it’s nice to hear from the Laureates about their experience. For most of them, it’s very positive. In fact, sometimes, they are overwhelmed – in a good way – by the media interest that the Right Livelihood Award generates. That is rewarding because, ultimately, all of this work is not about us: it’s really about the Laureates whom we are lifting to the global stage. Each of them has accomplished something absolutely admirable and inspiring. They deserve to be highlighted in such a global way.