Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

How the Ad Council Is Keeping Americans Informed on the Covid-19 Epidemic

London, UK
President and CEO Lisa Sherman speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about the business community’s generosity, compassion, and commitment to do good around the coronavirus crisis
The Ad Council is a US non-profit with the goal of improving the lives of all Americans through public service advertising. In recent times it has turned its hand to issues around bullying, love and sexism, but right now the biggest impact to lives in America and further afield is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Ad Council is working in collaboration with the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and major media networks and digital platforms to launch a series of national public service ads (PSAs) and multi-channel content to provide critical and urgent messages to the American public.

The Ad Council has a history of creating public service communications programmes in times of national crisis, I’m told by Lisa Sherman, the president and CEO of the Ad Council. “As each national crisis has its own unique challenges, our approach to communicating with the American public is customised based on what is most needed at that moment, whether it’s PSAs, talent engagement, social media content or interactive digital tools,” she adds. “Regardless of the tactical approach we take, our goal in times of crisis always remains the same: harness the power of communications to help improve the lives of Americans by providing the public with the critical and urgent information they need.” Deep-rooted relationships with media outlets and the creative community mean that Lisa and her team can move quickly in times of crisis, allowing them to distribute life-saving information to millions of Americans in real time. 

When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ad Council has already released a number of creative assets around social distancing, personal hygiene and mental health. Along with the White House, it worked with NBCUniversal to create a series of digital videos and social graphics, available in both English and Spanish, to inform high-risk populations about the steps they can take to protect themselves and the public about how they can help stop of the spread of coronavirus. National broadcast PSAs featuring the surgeon general, also created with the White House, will communicate the most important ways Americans can protect themselves and those most at risk. That script, developed by Group SJR, will also be available as a template for media companies to create assets with their own public health officials. And there are a whole bunch more assets developed by the Ad Council in partnership with various media companies and platforms. ViacomCBS is launching a multi-platform campaign led by MTV and the company’s Entertainment & Youth Brands to communicate the importance of social distancing that will be tailored and supported across the ViacomCBS portfolio and available to all media companies who want to get involved. The Atlantic’s internal creative studio is developing customised digital creative that provides access to relevant information. iHeartMedia will support messaging around social distancing and high-risk populations, among other important Covid-19-related topics, across their network of stations. And ABC/Walt Disney Television is working on priority messaging for parents and families for distribution across their channels and platforms. The PSAs direct audiences to visit, a centralised resource that includes up-to-date information on the crisis.

“Within the first few days of this pandemic, we were amazed at the number of companies and leaders across the communications and marketing industries that reached out to us to offer their services, channels and platforms,” Lisa says. “While we’re working with individual media companies on distinct efforts, the creative is all brand agnostic, so it’s available for everyone to customise for their channels and platforms. The business community’s generosity, compassion, and commitment to do good is both inspiring and essential in this critical time of need.”

Lisa is open about the fact that America - and the rest of the world - is in uncharted territory with the Covid-19 virus, and many Americans are feeling confused and fearful about what’s to come and what they can do to prepare. But it’s times like these when the Ad Council comes into its own as a beacon of reassurance for the country’s population. “To better educate, protect and support our communities across the country, the Ad Council is doing what we do every day,” says Lisa. “Using the power of communications to help improve the daily lives of people across the country by providing critical and urgent messaging that will allow us to educate, protect and support our communities across the country during this unprecedented time.”

“Our mission has always been to harness the power of communications for social good, and in times like these - when unease, fear, and confusion are stretching across the globe - it is critical that we come together to provide guidance, education, support and comfort. In fact, the Ad Council has a long history of creating life-saving public service communications in times of national crisis, starting in our earliest days during World War II to September 11th and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.”

That doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. The Covid-19 virus has impacted everybody’s life in every possible way. It’s not a one-off disaster confined to one area. It can feel everywhere, all-encompassing, ever-changing. The Ad Council’s greatest challenge and opportunity is to break through those feelings and the immense amount of information that it leads to “with critical and urgent messaging that will help us better educate, protect and support communities across the country during this unprecedented time”. What’s more, the unknown nature and complexity of the pandemic means that it’s impossible to know what’s to come. “As information changes, we’ll continue to work closely with experts at the CDC to ensure our messaging is accurate, vetted and up-to-date,” says Lisa.

Another point of difference with this particular crisis is its effect on the way that many of us are working right now. The Ad Council team is having to navigate one of modern times’ most complex and large issues without the ability of face-to-face meetings, as a large number of businesses across America and the world move to remote working to help slow the spread of the virus. 

“This shift is an adjustment for all of us,” says Lisa. “But it has been truly incredible and inspiring to see the business community’s unwavering generosity, compassion, and commitment to do good in this critical time of need. 

“This is a trying time for everyone, but it’s essential for those of us who have the resources and ability to join forces.”
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