Samaritans takes on new image

ANNIE KELLY

The Samaritans is launching a campaign that doesn't include its support line telephone number in a bid to distance itself from its traditional image.

The charity wants to be known as an organisation that provides support services for all aspects of emotional distress. So instead of including the phone line, the campaign's promotional material guides the public towards a new web site, www. changeourminds.com. The site provides information on a wide spectrum of issues about emotional health.

"Historically all of our campaigns have been about driving up people's propensity to call us in a time of need," said David Richards, director of marketing at the Samaritans.

"But a phone line is never going to change society and so this new campaign intends to challenge people's attitudes about the Samaritans and about mental health in general."

The charity is using the campaign to roll out its email counselling service.

Although various individual branches have been running forms of email communications, the Samaritans has used a £500,000 grant from Barclays to finance the expansion of the project nationwide.

Barclays' money will be used on training volunteers to provide counselling by emails, give branches technical support and raise awareness of the service.

"At the moment we receive about 30,000 emails a year from all over the world, and it's vital that we get this service right," said Richards.

"What we've found is that a lot of young people, particularly men, seem more comfortable about putting their feelings down in words rather than picking up the phone, so we want to make sure there's someone who can open a channel of communication and hopefully help them."

Agency Republic has created a series of posters, which will also appear as press advertising, on billboards and through broadcast media until April 2003. The creative is designed to reflect a more contemporary look for the Samaritans and focuses on different elements of mental depression, including loneliness, relationship breakdowns and self-harm.

"It's an enormous challenge to change our image from a niche 1950s organisation dealing with suicide to a brand that people associate with emotional support of all kinds," said Richards.

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