Rebel with a cause

Joining the fight against HIV/Aids will help your business win clients, make friends and influence people, Lord Puttnam tells Larissa Bannister.

If ever an individual could be said to personify paradox, it is the ex-ad exec and film luminary David Puttnam. Quintessentially outspoken and best known for taking on the might of the Hollywood establishment, Lord Puttnam is also a tireless and dedicated worker on behalf of the world's disadvantaged.

As the chairman of Unicef, the Oscar-winning producer is able to expend some of the passion that helped create films such as the 1984 classic The Killing Fields on drumming up support from individuals, governments and the corporate world.

Regardless of one-off responses such as the outpouring of aid for the tsunami victims, Puttnam says that industry in particular needs to do more on an ongoing basis. And as an advocate of corporate social responsibility (CSR), he believes the benefits of philanthropy do not just flow one way.

"The idea that charitable gestures and other types of CSR are simply a net cost outflow is complete rubbish," he says. "They have a positive impact on the entire business, not only in terms of its image but particularly in terms of the effect on staff."

Any company looking to get involved in CSR needs to allocate a proper budget and establish targets and members of staff with responsibility for promoting initiatives internally, but those initiatives do not have to be expensive. Unicef, for example, does a lot of work with British Airways, which has raised more than £17 million by collecting loose change from passengers on its planes.

According to Puttnam, the BA chief executive, Rod Eddington, wrote him a letter before Christmas praising the impact the programme has had on BA employees, some of whom have been out to visit children who have been helped by the scheme.

"It's about internal corporate promotion, it's about how a company sees itself; it's not about do-gooding," Putt-nam says of the project. "Yes, BA is altruistic in what it does, but it gets the huge benefit that comes with staff being able to see how what they are doing affects people's lives."

The advertising industry is particularly behind the times when it comes to realising the benefits of good CSR, Puttnam says. "With some honourable exceptions, agencies are lamentable at doing what they constantly advise clients to do. They should certainly be doing more, particularly if you buy my argument that CSR is going to become a bigger and bigger part of the way businesses are run."

Clients care about CSR because the public does. According to the research house Mori, 51 per cent of people in the UK have recently chosen to buy a product on the grounds of social responsibility. Not only should ad agencies be jumping on a bandwagon currently dominated by PRs and start advising long-term clients on good CSR practice, they ought also to be able to demonstrate to clients that they are active in the field.

"Look at WPP as an example," Putt-nam says. "It has offices in every country affected by the tsunami. If I was Martin Sorrell, I would be looking at what my agency in Thailand could do and at what the whole group could do to help. That's how you create a sense of family across a big group like that. UIP (United International Pictures) does it very well, not least because it has equal numbers of offices in donor and recipient countries. If there are any positive by-products of globalisation, this has to be one of them."

WPP is actually one network that does have a formal CSR scheme in place.

Writing in WPP's latest annual report, Sir Martin Sorrell said that a number of clients have quizzed WPP companies about their CSR practices during competitive pitches. While CSR activity doesn't quite swing the decision either way, he believes they would have been penalised had they been unable to demonstrate commitment in that area.

WPP came a very creditable sixth in The Guardian's 2004 Giving List, which tracks what individual UK companies give to charity and rates them by percentage of pre-tax profit donated. WPP gave £14.9 million across the surveyed year, equating to 4.3 per cent of its pre-tax profit, a significant part of which came from pro bono work.

Campaign is now calling for all agencies to display their pro bono credentials as part of a competition run in association with Clear Channel and Unicef (see box). The appeal asks creative teams to come up with a global outdoor ad campaign that highlights the devastating effect HIV/Aids is having on the world's children.

The winning campaign will run globally across Clear Channel ad sites in August 2005 and will be profiled in Campaign, while the successful creative team will receive a $5,000 prize from Clear Channel and $5,000 towards production costs. Clear Channel will also donate $5,000 to Unicef.

The concept was the brainchild of Clear Channel's European chief executive, Roger Parry, Puttnam says. "We met several times about the sort of things they might do and this is one of three initiatives they came up with. Clear Channel sees this as a way of repositioning itself in the market. The business has had a bit of an image problem and this can change that."

Unicef, which began in 1946 as a three-year project to deal with the problem of child refugees across Europe, often suffers because people believe it is funded by the United Nations. Neither are the charity's efforts restricted to Europe: it operates in 150 countries worldwide and is independently funded from donations by individuals and governments.

This HIV/Aids campaign is a new one for Unicef, which has just completed a five-year programme concerning child trafficking. The charity is aiming to raise $5 billion worldwide from its fundraising efforts.

"What makes Aids so destructive is that it takes out the productive generation," Puttnam says. "There has never been a disease in history that targets 25- to 40-year-olds so extensively and that creates such a large number of orphans. This campaign is a real opportunity for a creative team to come up with something effective and memorable and that fulfils the requirement of being truly global."

Puttnam has his own experience of the business. He began his career in advertising, working at Collett Dickenson Pearce, before moving into film, where he churned out eight hits in eight years as a movie producer and later had a controversial stint as the head of Columbia Pictures.

He says he retains plenty of enthusiasm for the industry he left all that time ago. Featured as one of David Bailey's 1964 "Box of pin-ups" in an exalted line-up that included Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Michael Caine and the Kray twins, he remembers talking to Bailey about what advertising meant in the 60s. "I was only 24 at the time, but my wife says my passion for advertising really came across in that interview," he says.

That passion will now be put to good use in Puttnam's new role as a non-executive director at TBWA, where he will work with the agency's branded content division, TBWA\Stream, on film- and youth-related products.

Puttnam says he will also help the agency examine the role advertising has to play in the world at large. "Ad agencies have absolutely no idea of the profound effect they have on society. As an industry, advertising thinks of itself as unimportant and ineffective and that's a real flaw in the DNA of communications companies."

Agencies need to start acknowledging the responsibility they have to the people they are targeting, he says. He has criticised the film industry for the same head-in-the-sand attitude - just one reason for his high-profile fallings-out with big-name actors and producers during his time at Columbia.

"One of the things I said which upset them in Hollywood was that film-makers are like soldiers that fling hand grenades over a wall but never look to see what damage they have done. Advertising is the same - it's all about input, not outcome, and that needs to be changed," he says.

- Do what you can to change things by entering the Clear Channel/Unicef competition, details above and at


Clear Channel and Unicef are running a competition in association with Campaign for creative teams around the world to create a high-profile global outdoor advertising campaign to raise awareness of how HIV/Aids affects the world's children.

According to Unicef, despite high levels of Aids awareness and campaigning, the effect of Aids on children and young people is "routinely disregarded" when response strategies are devised.

This poster campaign should focus on the key message that HIV/Aids is hitting children and young people hardest, and poses a grave and increasing threat to their survival and development. By the end of 2003, an estimated 15 million children worldwide had lost one or both parents to Aids.

A judging panel comprising the Unicef chairman, Lord Puttnam, the Unicef goodwill ambassador, Roger Moore, Unicef's creative director, Peter Sevel, Campaign's editor, Claire Beale, Clear Channel UK's chief executive, Stevie Spring, and Robert Campbell, the executive creative director of McCann Erickson, will select the winning entry, with the result to be announced in May.

The successful creative team will be featured in Campaign, receive a prize of $5,000 and see their work run in August on Clear Channel billboard and street furniture panels in more than 50 countries. On top of the prize money, Clear Channel will donate $5,000 to Unicef and pay the campaign development and artwork costs up to a budget of $5,000. It is a condition of entry that the winning creative/agency completes the creative work within a month of being nominated the winner.

HOW TO ENTER - Entry forms and full details of terms and conditions and the entry fee (which will be donated to Unicef) are on the competition website at, where a selection of Unicef images will be available for use as part of the campaign. All entries must be agency accredited and the closing date for entries is 18 April 2005.