When the Ad Council slated its calendar for 2020, the organization had expected a busy year. Among its many projects, the group was developing messaging around registering to vote in the Presidential elections, mental health, youth vaping, Empowering Girls in STEM, as well as expanding its popular Love Has No Labels campaign.
Then, COVID-19 began to spread across the U.S., igniting the Ad Council to launch its largest communications effort in its history, all spearheaded by MediaPost's All-Star Lisa Sherman, President/CEO, The Ad Council.
Sherman's ability to guide the Ad Council through these past 12 months is similar to landing a mega-jet at the busiest airport in the world while adding a space shuttle to her agenda.
“No one could have planned for the pandemic,” she says, “but without hesitation, the Ad Council took on the responsibility of helping to better educate, protect and support our communities across the country by doing what we do best: leveraging the talent and resources of the creative, media, tech, marketing and entertainment communities to deliver critical messaging to the public.”
It took just five days from when the pandemic was first declared for the Ad Council to launch its first content.
“This year has been incredibly difficult. It goes without saying that we are in the midst of crises of unprecedented magnitude — balancing a global pandemic, civil unrest due to widespread systemic racial injustice, and the nationwide division that came with this year’s election,” says Sherman. “This moment in time has required significant communications efforts to provide urgent information to the public.”
While the Ad Council admirably churns out impressive campaigns every year, 2020 represented a new high mark for the non-profit. Since March, the group has launched more than 20 distinct campaigns to reach different audiences, many of which have multiple extensions, informing the American public about the importance of protective measures including social distancing and face coverings, as well as addressing mental health, bias and discrimination, and additional issues throughout the pandemic.
Now, the Ad Council is embarking on its largest communications effort yet: a COVID-19 vaccine education program, guided by science and extensive research to reach a diverse range of audiences. Widespread adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine is “our generation's ‘moonshot’ and will represent one of the largest public health interventions in our nation's history,” she says.
Adjusting to this new pandemic reality has ultimately revealed some better ways to do things, she says. “We must take a hard look at our pre-COVID business and ask: What's working better now than it was before?”
“This isn't about getting back to normal — it's about using this moment as an opportunity to reconsider everything, and to build better systems within our companies, our industry and our communities,” says Sherman.
“Probably the biggest moment of reflection and renewed action for me this year has been around racial justice. Like many individuals and companies around the world, at the Ad Council, we asked ourselves: what can we do beyond pledging our support? How do we take another look at what we can and should be doing both internally and with our external platform to ensure more equality around race?”
Sherman's unique background made her the perfect person to help the organization navigate through the pandemic. She joined the Ad Council in November 2014, bringing both brand and agency side experience, including stints at Viacom, Verizon and Hill Holliday.
“Our COVID-19 response required speed over perfection, and it helped us recognize the importance of having trusted partners that enabled a looser, more nimble type of collaboration — knowing that we had done the work to create a culture and a network built on trust, we knew we could move fast as a team. Not only that -- we had to.”
Looking forward, the Ad Council will now increase its usage of open-source toolkits as well as letting “trusted” partners create content they know would resonate with their audiences.
While most of her focus has been on outward-messaging, Sherman admits her organization has had its own internal challenges as well.
“While doing this work, we were
laser-focused on ensuring the health and safety of our employees, we were navigating the challenges of remote work like so many others, and we were dealing with the impact of the pandemic on our own
business. We knew early on that we would have to cancel our fundraising Annual Public Service Award Dinner, which would result in a loss of several million dollars from our annual budget. In response
we launched a crisis response and recovery effort to ensure we could continue to fulfill our mission during this critical time. The industry saw the work we were already doing, and everyone was