Cause the Effect with Annie Burns at GMMB

We live in a world that constantly changes as people seek improvement in different aspects of society. Whether this  be a political, environmental, or social change, GMMB helps organizations and people “cause the effect” and make an impact on the world.

GMMB is a communications and advertising firm and its mission is to make real and lasting change in the world. The firm has worked on a variety of issues from political campaigns to improving seat belt usage to fighting for access to quality health care and education. Its services span from developing overall messages and strategies to creating digital and broadcast content.

Annie Burns is a senior partner at GMMB and has worked for the firm for more than 30 years. When asked about her experience with the organization, she said, “Thirty years ago, I started out here as the 10th person in a small political shop as a writer and producer. Over time as the firm diversified and grew to more than 200 people, I took on more responsibility, became the Chief Operating Officer, and then became a partner in 1993. I have played many roles, and currently I’m working with some great clients on issues like health coverage, the environment, and tackling poverty with a two-generation approach.”

GMMB has counseled and managed advocacy, communications, and political initiatives in more than 50 countries. As a partner for such an international firm, Annie Burns is able to travel and work with clients all over the world. When asked about the value of doing work in and traveling to other countries, she replied, “GMMB has had the extraordinary opportunity to work with many talented people and impressive organizations around the world, such as working with political candidates from South Africa to Mexico to Albania and helping bring the first pneumococcal vaccine to kids in Rwanda. While many communications firms set up brick and mortar offices around the world, GMMB is different. We provide our advocacy experience and expertise in consultation with in-country teams for a deeper and longer-lasting impact. We feel our international experience challenges our thinking with new ideas, perspectives, and learnings. Simply put, working internationally makes us smarter and better at what we do.”

Annie’s international political experience includes developing the National Democratic Institute’s 1987-88 field strategy and training to help defeat Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a campaign depicted in the Academy Award-nominated film “No.” When asked about her work in Chile Annie said, “This was one of the best and most humbling experiences of my life. I felt like I had always ‘given my all’ in my campaign work, and then in Chile, I met people my age who had gone to jail for their political beliefs and activities. It was a stark reminder of all that we as Americans take for granted. The work started in 1987, when the National Democratic Institute (NDI) asked us to assist their democracy-building efforts in Chile around the upcoming plebiscite (a yes or no vote) on President – and dictator – Augusto Pinochet. While Chile was very modern and sophisticated, commercially and academically, the practice of democracy was not. Beginning with the coup d’état in 1973, President Pinochet ushered in a period of brutal military rule. Civilians had not been able to exercise any of the basic rights in a democracy such as registering to vote, organizing, or voting.  In consultation with NDI and the center and left-of-center political parties, my partner Frank Greer worked with the media team on messaging and broadcast production. I traveled to Chile several times to meet with political stakeholders, developed a strategic guide and manual for voter registration, mobilization and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, and participated in trainings for hundreds of activists.”

GMMB’s clients also include many nonprofit organizations. When asked about a rewarding experience with nonprofit work, Annie said, “We are currently working with a nationally-recognized organization, CAP Tulsa, on a two-generation approach to alleviating poverty. CAP Tulsa’s mission is to help young children in lower-income families by providing early childhood education and support so they can achieve academic and, ultimately, economic success. GMMB supports CAP Tulsa with social and digital creative elements, marketing, and advertising to reach eligible parents in the Tulsa area to inform them about training opportunities in health care careers. It has been rewarding because we’ve seen tangible results: an increased number of parents signing up for training and a path forward to successful, long-term health careers.”

The current American political landscape is certainly male-dominated. When asked about her experience as a woman working in politics, Ms. Burns said, “I have loved the political work I have done. I was 21 years old when I joined the Mondale for President campaign. You get to do a lot for your age in campaigns: figure out problems, manage people and budgets, talk to the press – all while you are on a mission. I traveled around the country, met interesting people from all walks of life, and worked as hard as I knew how. The key to successful campaign experiences for me was believing in the mission, focusing on what needed to be accomplished, and partnering with smart, capable (and fun!) people.” Ms. Burns’s advice to girls interested in pursuing politics or communications as a career is to “Get real-life experience. Join a campaign, write for your school newspaper or a club’s newsletter, or help organize events. Learn what it means to be a good, reliable volunteer or employee and how to keep others motivated and engaged. While school was important and fulfilling for me, there’s been nothing better than being out in the world, making my own mistakes, finding success, and collaborating with others to make a difference.”

Contributor: Keerthi Jayaraman

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