16 December, 2013
Lynne Berry’s piece for the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network this morning makes for interesting reading.
Berry, former chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service and now chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, is calling for a ban on the use of negative images of ageing. She is challenging charities to lead society through innovation and change.
Adapting and developing services to meet the needs of our ageing population is imperative and has been on voluntary and public sector agendas for several years. Less has been said about changing society’s perceptions and attitudes.
We agree with Berry that the portrayal of older people, in images and words, needs to change to reflect their enormous contribution to society. This is a challenge for communications professionals throughout the sector. Not just those whose organisations represent or serve older people (though of course they should ensure the picture they paint is accurate). But also those who target older people as supporters of their various causes.
Too many times we have seen young comms teams work up two-dimensional donor profiles that amount to nothing more sophisticated than ‘little old ladies who potter about being worthy’. They exist. But so do the 75-year old long-distance walkers, who are learning French, travelling around India and still running their family business (and picking up their grandchildren from school when they have a spare moment).
No communications campaign can engage audience groups that aren’t properly understood. It is never enough for comms planners to base a strategy on convenient assumptions and false stereotypes. Or – worse still – to run with ideas because they themselves like them.
The solution is really quite simple. Comms professionals need to be part of the real world, mixing with – and getting to know – all types of people. If you live and work in a bubble, your comms will be contained within it.