Newsmaker: Reaching the unreached - Michael Lake Director general, Help the Aged

Nathalie Thomas

Architect of a new brand and direction for the charity

As Michael Lake inches towards his tenth year as director general of Help the Aged, he has decided to shed what he describes as the charity's somewhat "happy-clappy" portrayal of growing old and hit the public with the harsh reality of old age in the 21st century.

"Growing old in this country is a pretty unpleasant experience for the majority," he says. "The whole thrust of our rebrand has been to get that sharper edge to the way we look, the way in which we present ourselves and the way in which we put into action our charitable objectives."

Help the Aged's rebrand, which has seen it swap a cheery setting sun for a black and ochre logo promising "Help the Aged. We Will", doesn't signify a wholesale policy shift for the charity. But Lake admits it is reviewing its services.

Existing services won't be stopped, and the richer and healthier won't be abandoned. But when Lake talks about Help the Aged of the future, he speaks of "reaching the unreached".

The charity is tight-lipped about its next major campaigns, to be launched in November and January, but the director general hints: "I think you'll see us taking a much harder line."

He is quick to point out that whereas £140,000 might seem an excessive amount to throw at a one-off marketing exercise, to Help the Aged the sum represents a cost-effective move into modernity that has evolved from years of regular image updates.

"We have always changed our brand," Lake explains. "We have always made changes to it to make it contemporary - we need to do that because the charity sector is a competitive environment."

In an attempt to paint a picture of how he sees the relaunch, Lake uses the unlikely analogy of a wardrobe overhaul - he even manages to get the glamour model Jordan into the scene.

"Jordan might go out and buy a completely new wardrobe and throw everything out, whereas you or I would probably progressively buy clothes over the years, and occasionally spend a bit more on a winter coat," he jokes.

"Well, that's what I think has happened in this case."

Joking aside, Lake is clear that the new logo alone won't help the charity to reach those older people suffering from poverty, isolation and neglect, upon whom it wants to focus.

He says: "There's a lot of background work that needs to go into this.

It's not just a question of changing the heading on a few bits of paper - it's getting into people's minds as well, and that is a process that takes a considerable amount of time."

The charity hopes the "We Will" suffix will be explained by the manifestoes that are set to accompany all newly branded literature. Lake is determined that Help the Aged won't fall into the same trap the Government found itself in when it spent £25m trying to improve the take-up of benefits.

"The Government achieved the square root of not very much because all it did was advertise," he says. "We recognise that you've got to find ways to actually engage with people - advertising in The Guardian isn't necessarily the way to reach Mavis on the local estate.

"We have to try and find those ways. Largely, they will be about people working in the community."

Of course, the real impact of the new image has yet to be felt. But with nine years behind him already, Lake can be confident that his tenure will not be judged on the brand update alone. In fact, his success in transforming the charity from an unfocused organisation with its roots in international disaster relief to one that provides 30 national services for older people across the UK suggests that, in terms of helping the aged, Lake already has.

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