As head of communications for Help the Aged, Nikki Hill has had to
hit the ground running. ’In this type of organisation, you always have
to be ready to exploit any opportunity to get the message across, no
matter what time of day or night,’ she enthuses.
Hill cites one example she has already experienced in her short tenure
at the charity. ’It was very late. GMTV called me at home, asking for
someone from Helped the Aged to appear on the programme at 6.20am the
next day. The headlines were full of the launch of the DHSS minimum
income guarantee telephone hotline,’ she says.
’I had to find a senior spokesperson, and then plan how we can promote
what Help the Aged does, who for, and so on, while still commenting on
the news angle. But I thrive on such situations. That’s when I stand up
and start shouting across the room,’ she reveals.
Hill did not go to university. After school she joined the then Sports
Council, filling a roving role of marketing, events promotions and
’I had no career plan as such,’ she says.
In 1989, she joined the Cancer Back Up charity as a press officer and
five years later moved to the Carers National Association to head
There she met Patricia Orr, now CEO at Third Sector PR.
Orr describes Hill as a complete professional. ’She manages very
effectively - particularly outside agencies and outsourcing. She’s
extremely hard-working, loyal, and makes quick and well-informed
decisions,’ she says.
At the Carers National Association (CNA), Hill reported to Baroness Jill
Keathly whom she describes as her ’guru’. Baroness Keathly, now chair of
the New Opportunity Fund, says ’Nikki was instrumental in raising the
profile of CNA’. Keathly and Orr both believe Hill will work well in a
bigger organisation and it’s a challengeHill relishes.
’This is an important time for Help the Aged. Listening is one thing,
but it’s another thing taking on board what people have said, doing
something about it, and delivering,’ she says.
Hill has the demeanour of a school teacher. She is softly spoken, gentle
in appearance, wears a permanently welcoming smile, and uses exaggerated
facial expression to emphasise a point. But all the while there is an
underlying sense that she is not to be crossed.
Perhaps this is because Hill is so passionate about the plight of the
elderly. The number of elderly people - aged over 55 - is nine million
and growing in the UK and all have a vote. They have a ’strong,
articulate, collective voice’ - and they are angry. According to Hill
there is a groundswell of fury among the elderly, who have been incensed
by broken promises and paltry pension increases.
’It doesn’t need manipulating as such. The 75 pence a week increase in
state pension doesn’t even pay for a cup of tea. We have everything to
play for before the election to get the concerns of elderly people heard
and understood,’ she says.
Hill, heading a team of 20, is already drawing up a strategy to
transform the charity, which has already made the move from successful
fundraising group into award-winning campaigning organisation.
Her aim is to break down stereotypes of the elderly and rid society of
an increasingly ageist attitude. ’We have to make the message
We have to look at our identity, not just in terms of our logo, but our
design and the visual representation of people. One of the things that
has struck me is that Help the Aged comes across as being a very white,
middle-class organisation, and we use images that reinforce that. It
needs to change,’ she says.
Hill works in tandem with the organisation’s policy unit. The policy
unit works out which issues - from poverty, and long-term care, to
transportation and isolation - have to be pushed, and how. ’It gives me
the bullets and, by harnessing the media, the public and politicians, I
fire them,’ Hill says.
New Labour is easier to access, and listens more, than the previous
administration, she claims. But there’s a danger of society becoming too
’funky’, too youth-oriented. The young don’t make or break elections,
Hill describes herself as ’politically aware’ and driven by
’Ninety per cent perspiration, ten per cent creativity!’
She claims that she would turn down a corporate PR job offer as she
finds the public sector offers more motivating tasks. ’Unless the salary
was exceptional,’ she adds, feigning either a swoon or boredom-induced
’This job inspires me. Watching my mother cope with life after my father
died made me realise how vulnerable the elderly can become. You realise
that you, too, are going to get old and you have to wonder who is going
to be looking out for you,’ she says.
1989: Press Officer, Cancer Back Up
1995: Communications head, Carers National Association
2000: Communications head, Help the Aged.