It is hard to imagine anyone better qualified for, or more suited
to the job of Samaritans external relations director than Paul
Not only has he been a volunteer for the charity for the past 20 years,
but (while in his last job at children’s charity NSPCC) he was until
recently a vice-chairman of the Samaritans, in which capacity his advice
helped shape communications strategy.
Given that Gauntlett has already played a part in developing the
Samaritans’ PR and fundraising strategy, his appointment is unlikely to
herald a sea change in its approach to communications. ’There will not
be a quantum shift in strategy,’ he maintains.
But there will be plenty of fine-tuning. Not long ago, the charity
commissioned qualitative research into its image; more is planned as a
means of ascertaining whether the Samaritans needs to alter its
Even without all the findings of the research programme, however, some
deficiencies are clear. ’We don’t have as strong a corporate base as I
would like,’ says Gauntlett.
One aim is to see the perception of the Samaritans sharpened up so that
it appears even more ’worthy of support’ to consumer and corporate
donors alike. Gauntlett cites the publicity surrounding the
organisation’s October 1996 report Stress in the Workplace as a good
example of raising the issues that can lead to depression and, in turn
suicidal urges, at the same time as bringing the Samaritans itself to
the attention of prospective donors.
Although it has external advertising support from Ogilvy and Mather, the
Samaritans does not retain a PR consultancy. Gauntlett has no plans to
change this situation.
The communications onus falls on the charity’s 15-strong external
relations division, which not only has to bang the drum for donations
but help recruit the volunteers who man its phones - there is a
particular shortage of volunteers willing or able to work at night, the
prime time for calls.
At a local level, the communications team supports the work of 20,000
volunteers spread across 204 branches, who between them handle 4.4
million telephone calls a year.
Gauntlett himself became a volunteer after suicide and attempted suicide
brought grief to his family. He continues to carry out his voluntary
duties so as not to lose sight of what it is like at the cutting edge.
Even after 20 years he is still moved by troubled callers.
’I’d hate to feel I’ve developed a hard shell,’ he says. ’I find my
calls distressing, but I draw a distinct line between that and carrying
As a volunteer, Gauntlett was involved in setting up the Samaritans
e-mail befriending service, which received 3,100 contacts in the first
three months of this year. Now he is at the heart of the policy debate,
where issues include whether to introduce a fixed ratio of spend on
fundraising and publicity to overall income.
Historically, direct marketing was the cornerstone of the charity’s
There has been a broadening out to make use of other communications
disciplines in recent years and this trend may well continue. But
whatever the techniques used, Gauntlett stresses that publicity is the
’lifeblood’ of the organisation.
’He’s very sensitive about the need to be proactive at communications
with the external world,’ says NSPCC regional director Roger Thompson,
Gauntlett’s previous boss. ’He’s results oriented, articulate and
Asked to identify his own strengths, Gauntlett says: ’I consider that
I’m a good strategist, and I would hope an effective manager of people.
I have a deep understanding of the volunteer culture, which is important
because we are a volunteer-led organisation.’
To unwind, Gauntlett likes working out at the gym, country walks or
pottering in the garden of his Pennines home. His fondness for his home
is such that he has not countenanced selling it and currently sets off
at 5.45am every Monday morning to drive down to the Samaritans
headquarters in Slough.
He is in the process of buying a flat a short walk away from the office
in Slough where he will stay during the working week, continuing to
return to his beloved Pennines on Fridays. The Pennines versus Slough at
the weekend? One suspects the choice wasn’t too hard.
Factory manager, Sterling Group
Trust administrator,Yorkshire Children’s Hospital Trust
Head of appeals, Northern Region NSPCC
External relations director, Samaritans