Veera Heinonen, Press Counsellor at the Embassy of Finland in London, has been announced as the new Director of Communications at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. She will be starting in her new position in October. Veera is a seasoned media professional with a proven international track record. Educated at the English School, Vienna, she says she has been exposed to British influences from very early on.
Veera joined the embassy in 2006. As Press Counsellor she's been responsible for official Finnish communications and for promoting positive awareness about Finland in the UK. She's also been in charge of media relations in London, the most international media hub in the world.
Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb is impressed by Veera’s achievements in London. “In London Veera quickly established contacts with major world media such as BBC World, Al Jazeera and CNN. It’s important that communications from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is modern and up-to-date, which today includes having a strong presence in social media. I’m convinced that Veera is a great professional for this job.”
Before joining the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Veera worked as London correspondent for the Finnish business daily Taloussanomat in 2003–2006 and as news editor, producer and business reporter for the same newspaper in Helsinki in 1997–2003. Her previous assignments as a journalist also the national broadcaster YLE and Reuters.
Veera’s most memorable moments as a journalist were covering the major news events of the day, such as the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, when she was on news duty. The London Underground bombings were an even more challenging situation: at the time she was the London correspondent for the business daily Taloussanomat and reported on the unfolding events on location.
“From my years as Press Counsellor I have enough anecdotes and highlights to fill a book, but to write that book I’d need to be as good at weaving stories as MEP Lasse Lehtinen,” she says.
But by far the most momentous occasion of her career came with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Martti Ahtisaari. “A few days after the decision was announced we hosted an international press conference in London, which was attended by all the world’s leading news media,” she recalls.
Veera is very much looking forward to the challenges of her new job as Director of Communications. “Petri Tuomi-Nikula, the current office-holder, is definitely leaving big boots to fill,” she says and continues: “Speaking of boots, when I took over from Petri in his former job in London, I remember him encouraging me and saying you can go just as fast in high heels.” Indeed, this has always been her guiding principle: it’s not the style that matters so much, you just have to remain faithful to yourself.
She also places a high premium on her experience as a news journalist: “The job of a communications professional is very much like the job of a news journalist. Things are happening and changing all the time, which is why you need to be able to cope with stress and be a calm personality.”
Veera Heinonen is keen to stress the trailblazing role of her predecessor in promoting public diplomacy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and at Finnish missions around the world. The next step in developing Ministry communications, she insists, is to reform digital communications.
“Innovative online communications and social media are extremely powerful tools of communication for instance in emergency and crisis situations, as we saw during the recent ash disruption. Digital diplomacy is the next step forward, i.e. how we can promote our foreign policy goals by means of digital communications. Finland’s communications campaign with the UN Security Council is the first bigger project where we could try this out,” Veera explains.
She is also interested in finding new creative approaches to promoting Finland, and is therefore looking forward to the final report from the Finland Promotion Board in the autumn. She also wants to underline the importance of her role in maintaining a positive climate in the workplace: “It’s important that people enjoy working together,” she points out.