Changing the Conversation
President & CEO, The Ad Council
By Liz Harish
Inspired by changemakers and drawn to compelling stories, Lisa Sherman has redefined what content is and the purpose and social good it can serve. From going out on her own to establish the Women’s Sports Network to launching the groundbreaking LGBTQ network LogoTV at Viacom, Sherman has shown the power that communications and honest authentic storytelling can have. Now as President and CEO of the Ad Council, she is driving the organization’s mission to create compelling campaigns that inspire ongoing conversation around current issues our nation is facing. Combining passion, purpose and natural persistence, Sherman puts her all behind ideas and ideals that matter to her most.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
In my current role at the Ad Council, I often have the unique opportunity to meet the people touched by the issues and causes that we represent. [These range] from Lizzie Velasquez — who went from being a bullied teen on the Internet to an outspoken anti-bullying role model — to Jeannette McCoy, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting who has become a mentor for other gay Latina women. Change makers inspire me. They are the reason that I do what I do. Their courage and passion inspire me every single day.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST SHIFTS YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IN THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY OVER THE PAST DECADE?
The last few years have brought an incredible velocity of change in the communication industry that isn’t slowing down any time soon. I, for one, am excited by it. There has never been a better time or more ways to connect and engage consumers. We have more tools than ever to change hearts, minds and behaviors.
WHAT AD COUNCIL INITIATIVES ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
What I’m most proud of is the Ad Council’s ability to harness the power, talents, resources and generosity of our industry to take on the most pressing issues facing our country. Today that means tackling issues like gun safety, the opioid epidemic and sexual harassment. Any time we can use education and awareness to spark the individual action that can change a life, we do.
‘Most of my favorite moments are those where I took a big leap of faith.’
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER?
Most of my favorite moments are those where I took a big leap of faith. One was the day that we launched the Women’s Sports Network. I’d spent 17 years at the same company, and here I was launching a business of my very own — one that married my love for sports and my passion for marketing. I’d come to know that when something is right, you feel it in your gut. That move enabled me to take the leap to start something new.
At Viacom, I had the privilege of launching LogoTV. I got to see firsthand the power that communications and honest, authentic storytelling can have to broaden the imagination of people. I knew that harnessing this power for the LGBT community was an unprecedented opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
And of course, there’s the day I found out I’d gotten the job at the Ad Council and was able to fully match my purpose with my passion. To say that it was a lightbulb or an “aha” moment for me would be a gross understatement. It wasn’t a lightbulb…it was a lightning bolt that radiated through my entire body.
You’ve said your favorite song is Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and that it’s about not being afraid of change. HOW HAVE YOU EMBRACED CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE?
Stevie Nicks said it best: “Time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older too.” Through lots of practice, I have learned to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Stretching outside of my comfort zone always feels scary, but the upside far outweighs the discomfort of stepping out. Whether it was leaving a big company and a comfortable job after 17 years to start my own business, stretching myself to do something new at Viacom despite limited television experience, or choosing to live my life honestly, the results have always been positive and empowering. I like to say, “A boat that doesn’t rock doesn’t move.” I’m a firm believer that change is fundamental to growth.
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU RECEIVED IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU WOULD SHARE WITH THOSE ENTERING THE INDUSTRY?
It’s so important that you find a place and work that enables you to be your authentic self. For me, coming out was definitely an inflection point in my career. I realized how much of my energy had gone into hiding and was able to transfer that energy into my work. So my advice: Be you. It will bring out your best.
Liz Harish is a Public Relations Director at MetLife, leading internal and external communications for MetLife Auto & Home.
Lisa Sherman’s 2019 Matrix Award was presented by Bruce Gordon.
Lisa Sherman is President and CEO of the Ad Council, a national organization that uses the power of communications to take on the most important issues facing the nation. Through its vast network of partners across advertising and marketing, media and tech, government agencies and non-profits, the Ad Council spearheads campaigns that promote education, safety, health and community and leave a lasting impact on American life. Over the course of its more than 75-year history, it has helped create some of the most iconic public service advertising in history — from Smokey Bear to “Fiends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” to the viral phenomenon “Love Has No Labels.”
An accomplished media and marketing executive, Lisa has successfully led, transformed, and grown brands and businesses throughout her career. She joined the Ad Council from Viacom, where she launched and ultimately led LogoTV, the groundbreaking television network for LGBTQ. Under her leadership, LogoTV expanded to 50 million homes nationwide and its signature series, the Emmy and GLAAD Media award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race emerged as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to joining Viacom, Lisa was an Executive Vice President at ad agency Hill Holliday. She’s also held a number of senior-level marketing and advertising roles at Verizon.
Beyond her duties at Ad Council, Lisa is actively engaged at the intersection of business and social good. She is an Information and Entertainment Steward for the World Economic Forum, an advisory board member of DoSomething Strategic, and is also on the Board of Trustees for God’s Love We Deliver. A passionate advocate for female empowerment, she is an inductee into the YWCA’s Academy of Women Leaders and a Metzger-Conway fellow at her alma mater, Dickinson College. Lisa was also featured in a Harvard Business School case profile on authentic leadership and was a contributor to the book, “Uplifting Leaders (Who happen to be Women).”
Lisa has been recognized with a number of industry and community service awards, most recently named to Out Magazine’s 2017 Power 50 list, Ad Age’s “Women to Watch 2015,” Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC’s 2016 Public Service Award and named to the 2016 Responsible 100 List by City & State, an honor given to New York’s most outstanding corporate citizens in recognition of personal and professional philanthropic contributions.