Charity folk on billboard ads? It's got to be a winner

We complain about being marginalised, so a higher profile is overdue, writes Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Now that we've all had a few weeks to get used to the sight of one of our sector luminaries up on those Marks & Spencer billboards alongside the likes of Helen Mirren, Monica Ali and Tracey Emin, her participation raises interesting questions. I'm talking, or course, about Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children.

One can imagine the conversation between the marketing gurus that led to her selection. Jude: "We've got the actress, the dancer and the artist. Let's throw in a charity person too." Nikki: "What about that Camila lady, the one with the incredibly bright clothes and headscarves?" Jude: "No, we can't dress her more stylishly than she already is." Nikki: "Good point. Shami Chakrabarti probably won't do it so soon after they dressed her up for the Olympics opening ceremony. And Debra Allcock Tyler isn't really M&S, is she? Let's go for Jasmine from cuddly Save the Children instead."

However they selected her, it's good that the gurus chose a charity sector leader. We complain about being marginalised, so a higher profile - even in the frivolous form of a fashion shoot - is overdue. And I'm sure Jasmine is grateful that, in order to get the exposure, she didn't have to accept an award from Carol Vorderman and be expected to burst into tears on national television.

She must have deliberated before agreeing, perhaps out of concern for how the charity's staff and supporters might react, though most should realise it's a winner all the way for Save the Children. Then there's the slight worry of having to do a fashion shoot alongside the uber-glamorous Dame Helen and the ubiquitous Darcey Bussell. But I can assure Jazz that she pulled it off just fine.

The gurus might now be planning next summer's swimwear shoot, but she would be well advised to refrain at that point, as those of us who have disrobed for our charities rarely emerge with our reputations enhanced. A better next step might be 'Jasmine: the fragrance' - which seems a lot more marketable than one based on her surname and smelling of warm beer. But the most fascinating question, surely, is who would be selected from our sector if it were a male fashion shoot.

One suspects that Sir Stuart Etherington, head of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, might not be Jude and Nikki's first choice. Nor, perhaps, Acevo's boss Sir Stephen Bubb, whose nose might also be put out of joint if they opted for his outgoing deputy, the devilishly handsome Peter Kyle. The only marginally less impressive Joe Saxton of the sector consultancy nfpSynergy isn't really a charity worker. Javed Khan of Victim Support might be a bold choice and could, I think, be persuaded to let his name go forward. But if not, can I suggest that the children's hospice movement might have one or two tall, slim, male chief executives who are already loyal customers of M&S?

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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