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Ad Council chief exec Lisa Sherman on responding quickly in times of crisis

Lisa Sherman, the Ad Council's chief exec, talks about how the industry is responding quickly to the coronavirus crisis.

The Ad Council has a long and storied history of using communications to tackle some of the US’s most pressing causes. From its inception in 1942 it has been responsible for some of the best-known advertising strap lines – from the Second World War defense campaign ‘Loose lips sink ships’, to ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste,’ which promoted diversity in education.

Lisa Sherman has been chief exec of the Ad Council since 2014, a role she calls “the best job on the planet” for its ability to galvanize the advertising industry on an array of important issues.

At a turbulent time for the US and the world, Sherman outlined how the Ad Council has stepped up to the plate and considers how the industry at large can harness its power to change the status quo.

Here are some of the highlights from the conversation, which can be seen in full here.

On what she’s most proud of…

“The generosity and the power of this industry to do good is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years.

“We’ve all talked a lot about the role of a corporation, and whether it’s stakeholder capitalism or shareholder capitalism that’s driving the core of purpose, but I think more and more companies are now doing what has always been the ethos of the companies that support the Ad Council.

”That is an enormous resource, to be able to take leverage on big important issues that affect individuals, their families and communities.”

On acting quickly during Covid-19

“We don’t typically move as fast as we had to in this crisis. We certainly shortcut a lot of things, but it’s amazing what you prove to yourself you’re able to do.”

“We literally stood up three or four different campaigns within a five-day period. The first effort really focussed on issues of personal hygiene and social distancing, which is now an everyday term but that wasn’t case around mid-March.”

“We then put out messages targeting parents around how to talk to your kids about the situation, partnering with Sesame Street to try and help parents communicate with their children.”

“We were then able to get out messaging around mental health, the things that people need to think about, like reaching out to a friend to ask how they’re doing.”

“I will say, the reason we were able to get those campaigns out in the marketplace so fast was the level of visibility we were able to secure. $200m in donated media space from our industry gave us a level of visibility, which leads us to believe we really did contribute to some of the flattening we are seeing now. We’re very proud of that, and very grateful for the support we’ve seen.”

On the role of the Ad Council during this time of crisis…

“Everything we’re doing now is being viewed through the filter of the pandemic because it’s not going away anytime soon.”

“We’re in a crisis phase right now… and we’re really starting to pivot to think about phase two and recovery: what does that look like? And what are the issues people are going to have to deal with?”

“We’re also thinking about the re-building phase, and how we’re all going to be dealing with a health crisis and an economic crisis, and the fallout of that is going to be long-lasting.”

“For us it’s about asking, what are the new issues? For example, we’re going to double down on mental health. When it comes to people getting back to work, what do people need to know? We’re also going to see 30 million people unemployed, how can we support those who are looking for jobs?

“At the beginning of all of this we said the virus didn’t discriminate, but now we know that’s not true. This virus has absolutely hurt certain communities more than others.

“Low-income families and communities of color are disproportionately affected, so we’re taking a hard look at what we can do to provide support to those communities and really, specifically target them.

“It‘s a matter of the timing, and where we are in the crisis, and I think it‘s a matter of what are the most important issues with respect to certain communities. That‘s why we got to keep doing what we‘re doing. We can‘t take our foot off the gas.”

Sherman spoke with The Drum‘s executive editor Stephen Lepitak as part of The Drum‘s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.

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