November 7, 2018
Lisa Sherman, President and CEO at the Ad Council discusses the growing cooperation between purpose and profit, the role of creators in social impact today, and the underrepresented notion of belonging in the workplace. Lisa explains how the rise of digital media is opening up new channels to tackle some of the most prominent issues society face today.Q&A
Jeff: You’ve dedicated your career to building and developing marketing platforms that improve the lives of individuals and society as a whole. What is your day to day like at the Ad Council?
Lisa: I like to think of myself as having the best job on the planet because I get to work with the best and brightest in the industry. The Ad Council is the nation’s leading non-profit organization that brings together the leaders of our industry to tackle the nation's most pressing issues, and we do that by doing it together. On average, we are tackling about 40 different issues a year.
Jeff: How do you decide what issues to tackle?
Lisa: We tackle issues based on a number of different things. We work with an advisory committee that's made up of leaders in education and researchers in social science who are studying trends that help us to understand which issues are predominantly emerging. The issue has to be of the breadth and the depth that its worthy of bringing the Ad Council to bear. It also needs to be an issue where we believe communications can actually help change or move the needle on that issue. It also has to have a very targeted audience so that we know if we’re going to develop communication strategies, they’ll be able to reach the right people at the right time. We are a non-partisan organization so it has got to be an issue that is not political in any way.
Jeff: How has the rise and diversification of digital media impacted the work of the Ad Council?
Lisa: I like to say that there has never been a better time to communicate with people, and when you're in the business that we are in, there has never been a greater opportunity to engage people with the messages we want to reach them with. We used to call this public service advertising, I now like to think of it as public service engagement. With the many different tools, platforms and technologies available, we now have more ways to reach people at the right moment with the right message in a way that will actually change behaviors. That’s the name of the game, it's all about driving impact.
Jeff: How can brands get more involved with social good?
Lisa: What is heartening to me is that we’re seeing more and more large companies and brands stepping into the role of leading with purpose and driving marketing with purpose. I think many companies see themselves having an obligation to help tackle some of the big issues facing our country. We have seen companies leading the charge on issues surrounding immigration, climate change, and LGBT rights. These days brands have to really to stand for something. There are so many issues, and while many of them aren't necessarily political issues, everything is becoming politicized nowadays and I think that’s the distinction that has to be made. Brands are assessing what their values are as companies, and what they want to stand for to their employees and customers.
I’m thrilled that there is a focus as much on purpose as there is on profit. There used to be a feeling that you couldn't focus on purpose because it would take away from profit, but we know from companies like Unilever, the results speak for themselves in terms of what they've done to reduce their carbon footprint over the years and their efforts to eradicate poverty in the world. After the Colin Kaepernick ad, the Nike stock went up by 30%. They stood by something that was important to them and reflected their values, and that's the perfect example of where purpose and profit actually come together.
Jeff: Ad Council launched Creators For Good in 2015. You were one of the first non-profits to invest in the influencer space. How has the role of influencers changed your campaign strategy?
Lisa: We are super proud and excited about our Creators For Good program. For me, the initiative was about understanding the importance of the people delivering your messages to your audiences. Not only are they the messengers, but given the incredible connection they have with their audiences, they are incredibly effective because they are so authentic and credible. It's sort of like getting advice from your friend, and it's that direct 1:1 conversation that’s most powerful.
Initially, influencers were extending our messages, but now they are actually creating a lot of their own content. We also used to think that we only need to work with the “biggest” influencers with the largest reach, but we’re now realizing there are lots of ways to get to scale. One of those for us has been having increased access to mobilizing the smaller and mid-tier creators who are also equally passionate and have given us a tremendous amount of reach for the messages we want to get out there.
Subjects like suicide or addiction are very sensitive issues, and many people we are trying to reach have very specific and sensitive questions. They're looking for real answers but they are worried about being judged if they go directly to a doctor or a friend or a family member. With our Seize The Awkward suicide prevention campaign we have been able to use these new platforms to help them get the information that they need. We hosted two Reddit AMA’s and a Tumblr Answer Time where people were able to submit their questions, and experts from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Jed Foundation were able to provide answers in what felt like a safe environment.
Jeff: Do you have a favorite Ad Council campaign?
Lisa: There are a few we’ve launched in the last several months that I’m particularly proud of. They tackle some of what I think are the most significant issues we’re facing today. One of those is around opioid prevention, which is incredibly powerful when you see the lengths that someone will go to feed their addiction. Another is the work we are doing around gun safety with our own industry’s gun safety alliance. We are focused on reducing the number of those 8 kids a day that are killed or injured because of an unlocked gun in a home.
And then, of course, the iconic Love Has No Labels campaigns which I think is one of the most successful public service advertising campaigns that has ever been launched. The videos have been viewed over 200 million times worldwide. Since we launched the campaign three years ago, we have seen a ten point increase in people who are now aware that they can create specific steps towards a more accepting environment, and people who are much more aware of their own unconscious bias. The quality of the creative, and its ability to move people, is key for moving people to drive real impact.
Jeff: Looking back on your career, what would you say the most important life lesson has been?
Lisa: There are two things I would share. The first is when you can marry the work that you do with the passion that you have, go do it. The second thing is that you have to be able to work in an environment where you can be your full self. I lived in the closet for a long time at work and when I finally had the courage to come out and decided never to be in a corporate closet or any closet ever again, I can't tell you how freeing it was. I never realized how much energy it took to hide all that time. All that energy was freed up and applied to all the work I was doing, and it was an amazing experience.
People in our industry talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, which of course is very important and we have a lot of work to do, but I would add “belonging” to that. It's one thing to have all the numbers in the right ratios, and it's one thing to have people feel included, but inclusion is different than belonging. Belonging is when you really feel like you're with people like you who accept you for who you are. I can’t underscore what that has meant for me and what that insight and experience has done for me personally and on every level.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes