Unlocking the brand
For UGLE Director of Communications Mike Baker, the challenge Freemasonry faces in the run-up to the Tercentenary celebrations is in improving public image
What is your background?
My career started in retail. I worked my way up the management ladder in companies like Habitat and WHSmith before moving into hospitality with Forte in regional operations management.
I then took a leap of faith into a very different field for the Post Office. Initially a retail network manager there, I moved into sales development, communications and marketing for its financial services and travel products, which were new areas for the Post Office. After that, I left to set up my own business development and marketing consultancy. It was during a secondment with a telecoms company in 2013 that I became aware that UGLE was looking for a Director of Communications.
Is the role of Director of Communications a new one?
It is a new position in terms of the scope of the responsibilities. The job title had previously been held by John Hamill, and his role had extensively involved combatting discrimination. This is also within my remit, but it’s not as significant a part thanks to John’s excellent work and the ongoing strategy from both the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary to make Freemasonry a more open organisation.
‘I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017.’
UGLE has a clear idea of the strategy leading up to the Tercentenary so, for me, the job is about matching my skill set and my views with that direction. The opportunity that our Tercentenary represents should not be underestimated. I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017. There will be huge charitable spend that year, but there will also be enormous involvement from our members in communities and in celebrating 300 years of heritage. One of the heartening things to witness is the amount of activity that is undertaken in the Provinces and Metropolitan area by volunteers. It’s not just about the amount of money they raise; it’s about the difference they make to people’s lives.
How did you become a mason?
I joined Freemasonry by chance – I had two brothers who were Freemasons in Somerset and Bristol.
I remember mentioning them to a colleague at work in 2000 and asked what he knew about ‘that lot’. The colleague asked if I was interested, I got introduced and became a Freemason in London.
I progressed in the Craft and joined the Royal Arch. Since then, I’ve been involved in Metropolitan initiatives – most recently Talking Heads, which has also taken me out into the Provinces to explain the history and attraction of the Royal Arch.
Do you have an average day?
One of my daily tasks is monitoring our media performance, looking at how our image is defined by other people and challenging discrimination when it happens, whether it’s from the media, MPs, faith groups or employers. All too often discrimination comes through lack of understanding, which is why it’s key for us to approach people sensitively and to dissolve any element of fear. I also work with the Provinces to help them engage with the local media and with their own membership, keeping them updated so that they can be advocates and ambassadors. One size does not fit all – the communication strategy for a Province depends on the challenges it faces, which may differ greatly from one to the next.
Are you marketing a brand?
As a membership organisation we have a product in Freemasonry. It’s no different from the marketing function in any business; it’s all about developing awareness of that product. I want people to understand Freemasonry in its real sense, to see it as a force for good and consider being a member. There’s also the advocacy element, getting our members to say, ‘Hey, you ought to join.’ That’s no different from the objectives for mainstream marketing in any brand.
What’s difficult about masonic communication?
When it comes to communication, all the activity that we undertake can be broken down into three elements: clarity, capability and consequence. In terms of clarity, we have a very clear picture about what we want Freemasonry to look like in people’s hearts and minds by the Tercentenary. We’re also very clear about what the consequences will be: that it’s about maintaining a stable number of people in the organisation; attracting and retaining new members; and moving forward in dispelling myths. The challenge is the bit in the middle, the capability, how we equip our members and give them the permission to speak.
We know in masonic terms what our principles and tenets are, but how do we represent them? It can be a challenge to use the right kind of language in order to dispel myths, to talk clearly about what Freemasonry represents, to explain that it’s about integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. Not everyone has these word sets and it’s made more difficult because Freemasonry is different for every person. We therefore need to be non-prescriptive so people feel comfortable, whether they’re talking about Freemasonry to the local press or at a dinner party.
Does the Tercentenary feel close?
We don’t always do things immediately in Freemasonry but when we do, we do them in a considered, appropriate and consistent way. I feel very positive about the Tercentenary because the sun will be shining in 2017 when we fix our roof and move forward. There is a massive dedication and desire to move forward, as well as a sense of duty to safeguard our future. Yes, there will always be a degree of trepidation about an event like this, but it’s not just about what’s happening at the centre on 31 October 2017. It’s also about what happens across the country and throughout the Districts from 26 June 2016, which is the start of our 300th year. This is why we need to start increasing the momentum of our communications and engagement.
How does your job sit with your Freemasonry?
I deal with a lot of Freemasonry as a member of UGLE and the Supreme Grand Chapter. I’m the Scribe E of my mother chapter and Director of Ceremonies for my lodge in West Kent. I wouldn’t do it unless I had a passion for it and I wouldn’t go to a meeting if I didn’t think it would be enjoyable – I haven’t missed a main Craft or Royal Arch meeting since my initiation in 2001. As a representative of UGLE, I feel very privileged to hold my role and to be making a difference in some way to the future of the organisation by helping it become more open. In the What’s It All About? DVD, Anthony Henderson from Bedfordshire said that the value and teachings of Freemasonry have made him the man he is today. That holds true for me.