A public service announcement (PSA) is a message in the public interest disseminated by the media without a charge to raise public awareness and change behavior. In the UK, they are known as public information film (PIF) and in Hong Kong they are known as announcements in the public interest (API).
In the US, the Ad Council (initially called the War Advertising Council) was set up in 1941 during World War II to help the government use advertising to influence American society on a range of fronts, including investing in government bonds, planting ‘victory gardens’, and remaining vigilant during war time (“Loose lips sink ships” was one PSA catchphrase).
After the war, PSAs were used to educate the public on a broader range of important issues. The most common topics of PSAs are health and safety, such assubstance abuse or emergency preparedness. One of my favorites as a child was Smokey the Bear whose “Only you can prevent forest fires” campaign became famous and ran for decades.
So it was a delight to sit down last week with Ad Council President & CEO Lisa Sherman on The Caring Economy to share a bit about her marvelous career journey and stewarding the Ad Council.
Sherman is an innovative leader and accomplished operating executive with deep experience in the private and non-profit sectors. She has over 35 years of experience building, transforming, and growing organizations. As president and CEO of the Ad Council, she leads all aspects of this national institution. Working at the intersection of media, marketing, technology, entertainment, and advertising, the Ad Council convenes the world’s best marketers to create public engagement campaigns. By leveraging cutting-edge products, approaches and digital technologies, the organization tackles the most pressing issues facing the country.
Sherman is a thought leader, frequent public speaker, and active participant on several advisory boards, including the World Economic Forum’s Information and Entertainment Stewardship Board. In addition, she is an advisor to Guild Education (an EdTech unicorn preparing the workforce of today for the jobs of tomorrow) and a member of the board of trustees at Dickinson College, her alma mater. Lisa was recognized as the 2020 Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association and received the prestigious 2019 Matrix award from New York Women in Communications.
When I asked her about her career journey, she shared and inspiring story of marrying higher purpose and passions with her career. When she launched the venture capital backed Women’sSports Network to provide marketing services to an under-funded and under-recognized segment of the sports economy, she realized, “It was such a rush because for the first time in my life I really was able to marry something I care deeply about and was very influential in my life, sports, with the craft that I’ve come to love, marketing.”
It was so affirming an experience that even after the market pulled back after the 9/11 attacks and the company closed, she realized: “It was the most influential experience of my career up until that point with the scrappiness and the entrepreneurial energy and loving what I did in a different way.”
Pioneering leader that she is, Sherman then went on to launch and lead the very first LGBTQ cable network,Logo TV, that was being launched by Viacom. Of the experience she reflects:“I had the real clear privilege of leading and launching this very unique cable network for an audience that has always been underserved on television . . . [again] it took that idea of marrying something I care deeply about with the work that I like.”
Her leadership grew Logo’s audience to include nearly 60 million homes by the time she was recruited away to the Ad Council.
Of the moment she received the call from the executive recruiter about the new position, Sherman notes: “I knew a bit about the Ad Council,but not a lot. But I had a very visceral reaction. I literally have said I felt like a lightning went through my body, like this is the job I have to have as my next episode because, as I am, as you know, and as I’ve said I’ve always been, very purpose driven. Acore value of mine is to really do what I can to help make the world better in whatever big or small ways that I can.”
For the past seven years she has championed the Ad Council as a leading megaphone for public service announcements ever since. She says that it is an honor to bring together the media industry, its agencies, media companies and the countless brands that they work with, “to use their superpowers for good.”
That good means raising public awareness and inspiring action around such important contemporary matters as diverse as crisis relief, Covid 19, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Ukraine, mental health, gun safety, nature and suicide prevention. The Ad Council impact is profound both quantitatively and qualitatively. Chances are, if you’ve ever watched television anywhere in the United States, you have seen and probably even taken note of its work. That is thanks to Sherman and her team and partners.
By following her passion, serving the underserved, and continually honing her leadership skills, Sherman can now reflect: “I just spent my entire career at brands, media companies, and agencies. . . It’s all coming together in this moment and so luckily enough I land here.
Sherman exemplifies how’s purpose-driven lives and careers evolve together. And with digital technology as such an integral part of our home and professional lives, we would all be well served to heed her advice on serving underserved communities and using our own megaphones to create a brighter and more inclusive world.