Can Ads Save the World?

Published on LinkedIn Influencers  on August 27, 2015

I’ll be the first to admit to fast forwarding through the ads on my DVR. If I have the option to skip an ad after 5 seconds on youtube, I do, and one of the reasons I have Sirius radio in my car is its absence of ads. Every day, we’re bombarded with advertising from all corners, so when I have the chance to seek relief from the barrage, I gladly take it. But what if ads were more than just advertising? What if ads had the power to not just sell products, but to raise awareness? Open hearts? Change minds? Am I being too optimistic? I don’t think so.

Last year, I wrote about Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, and how I applauded the P&G company for doing something more with their advertising budget. Instead of yet another 30 second television spot toting the amazing absorption rate of their sanitary pads, they created a video that highlighted the power of negative social norms, and how the language we all use on a regular basis can impact those around us in profoundly detrimental ways. Yes, at the end of the day it was an advertising campaign designed to sell products, but it did so in a way that raised awareness of a very important and pressing issue. (Watch a talk by the amazing filmmaker behind #LikeAGirl, Lauren Greenfield)

Last month, Always released a follow up video, Unstoppable, and it’s just as profound and thought provoking as the first. (already up to 37 million views) Watching young women and girls bust down the barriers that society places on them simply because of their gender brought a smile to my face, because this is a message that needs to be out in the world. But it also made me wonder. Why can’t all ads be like this?

Well, turns out many of them are. The marketplace for branded content is currently booming, even if no one can actually agree on a definition for the term, and as I searched for more of these videos, the more I came to see the power of advertising as a force for good, rather than just an annoyance that needs to be skipped. Recent videos such as Worst’s Toughest Job, I Will Want I Want, and UnSung Hero may be advertising greeting cards, sportswear, and insurance policies, but they are also educating, raising awareness, and highlighting the positives in life, instead of the old advertising standbys of young, sexy, and provocative.

And it’s not just brands selling products. Recent videos from charitable organizations such as Most Shocking Second a Day Video, Love Has No Labels, Life is Why, The Greatest, and Slap Her, have raised awareness and provoked discussion and debate about war, love, diversity, health, and domestic violence, and reminded us all that a little optimism goes a long way. Many of these videos went viral, reaching audiences of tens of millions, and their power for positive social change can not be underestimated.

Which brings me back to my original question. Can ads save the world? Certainly not on their own, but their reach is undeniable, and with companies more and more relying on the digital realm to reach potential customers, one can only hope that they will continue with the current trend of positive, social minded branded content. At the end of the day, the ads we see probably won’t save the world, but I hope the companies behind them don’t stop trying.

Share you favorite piece of branded content in the comments section.

Leadership- You Take It With You

Posted on LinkedIn Influencers on August 14, 2014

Leadership. It’s a very big topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately. One of the main reasons I’ve been giving it a lot of thought is because I was asked to talk about leadership in the context of my career at Goldman Sachs and my current role as CEO of Women Moving Millions by Porsche as part of a series they are doing called, “There is no substitute for….” The videos include profiles of many amazing leaders, including Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of Indiegogo, Brian Spaly, CEO of Trunk Club, Ruth Zukerman, Founder of Flywheel Sports, Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, and Kenny Dichter, Founder and CEO of Wheels Up. Needless to say, I was beyond honored to be included. The shoot was in July, and the completed video was just released.

Of course, I tried to prepare for the shoot, but the goal was to not have something scripted out, but rather for it to just be in conversation about the topic. What you see above is a few minutes of a very long conversation. Flying home that night from Los Angeles, I drifted back to so many memories from my time at Goldman, and in particular, to the work I did in those last few years that really ignited my interest in leadership development. I was part of a core team that created the first conferences for women at the firm (1990s), and I obsessively collected and shared the best articles I could find on subjects ranging from creative thinking to team building, facilitation, time management, listening, change management, and much, much more. I still have all of those articles, and I store them in a dedicated file room in my house that continues to expand on a daily basis. I think this shows commitment. My kids call me a hoarder.

photo 2[1]Back then, Goldman noted my obsession with the concept of leadership development, and I was invited to serve on the initial task force that created Pine Street, Goldman’s leadership development effort, as well as helping to hire the firm’s first Chief Learning Officer. During the course of that process, we held endless conversations with experts in the field, and I consumed massive amounts of research on the subject. Not only did I want to be a great leader, but I wanted to understand how to help others become leaders as well. It was that work that helped me to see how connected those two things really are. I don’t think you can truly be a great leader without being a great teacher and a mentor to others as they move through their own leadership journey. Looking back I realize that while doing the best I could at the time, with the knowledge and wisdom I had, I could have been so much better.

What I wish someone would have told me earlier in my career, is that leadership, and management, is something you can truly learn. You need to learn. There are skills involved with both that don’t just ‘happen’ when you get promoted. How you learn it is by watching others’ actions closely, by reading everything you can get your hands on, by putting it all into practice, and intentionally monitoring outcomes and being willing to adjust. Ideally, you put it into practice on behalf of something you are truly passionate about. (If you watch the other Porsche videos you will see some amazing examples of this.) I said in the video that for me, being a leader is not the same thing as having a big title. There were and are a lot of people with big titles who are not strong leaders, or good managers. At In fact, one of the reasons why we created Pine Street was because we realized that there were many senior member of the firm with big titles who were managing lots of people and running big business areas, but did not have the skills they needed to excel in their roles which included developing the talent underneath them. Thankfully, there were a lot of excellent ones as well. We also set up the firm’s first executive coaching program and if you have the resources, there is perhaps no better way to accelerate your development.

photo 3[1]I loved the work I did at that time so much. I could not get enough of it. Though I did not think about it like this at the time, I now see that my life’s work would become centered around helping to develop and advance women’s leadership. In fact, one of the last major projects I did at Goldman was to help launch ASCEND: A Women’s Leadership Exchange, which brought together internal women leaders at the firm with the most senior external women leaders from all areas of business that had touch points to Goldman. The year was 2002. It seems almost silly now, but one of the reasons we did it was to prove just how many women leaders there were out there and how incredible they were as leaders. Because we were inviting only the top women in the areas of money management, corporate CEOs/COOs/CFOs, wealth holders, and such, it was not until we actually put the list together that people came to see the growing power and influence of women. In other words, we were trying to prove the business case for women’s leadership. That event was a game changer for me. I realized that although deeply honored to be a senior woman, I was also tired of often being the only woman in the room, and I wanted to be in places and spaces where I could learn from amazing women leaders.

photo 1[1]When I left Goldman, I did not go on to another paid position, but instead, I began working full time in service of a bigger mission and purpose: to make the world a more just, equitable, and gender balanced place. For a while, it felt really weird to not have a big title and a team of people to work with, but over time, I came to see that you can take your leadership with you. By that, I mean that when you leave a leadership role, you can bring all of the skills and knowledge you have acquired and apply them to your next role. For me, it took a while. It was 10 years later, in 2012, that I became President and Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions. I now lead a small team of amazing staff, partner with an incredible Board of Directors, and I do work that helps to amplify the leadership of over 200 women (and a few men) who have given large gifts in support of girls and women. To do this, I often find myself digging through the piles of books, research, and notes that I was surrounded by 12 years ago, and pulling them out for current use. The great news is that women and men, but according to studies, more women then men, rank making a positive difference in the world very highly in terms of what to do with their time and money.

So I write, give speeches, host events, serve on boards, and do all that I do because I have grabbed hold of a vision for what I want the world to be like, and with everything I have, I will it forward. Does that make me a leader? I hope so. But as I said in the video, it is indeed an honor and a privilege to ever be called one.

I am feeling this leadership theme and will do some other posts on this topic including my favorite leadership books, articles and quotes. If you have suggestions for topics, please let me know.

On the Edge: A Unique Look at Leadership

AlisonAs appearing in LINKEDIN.

While I may have only just published my top books of 2013 last week, 2014 is well underway, which means a slew of new books will be coming your way! Today marks the publication date of the first book of 2014 that I’m excited to read, and I hope everyone will pick up a copy of On The Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership by Alison Levine.

I first came to know Alison through 85 Broads, originally a group for current and former female employees of Goldman Sachs, but which has now expanded into a global women’s network with over 30,000 members, and I have kept in touch all of these years because she is an extraordinary person. Alison has previously worked at Goldman Sachs, but it is her experience in another area altogether that has given her a unique outlook on what it takes to have effective leadership skills in life and in business.

Alison is a member of a very exclusive group, as she is one of only about 40 people in the world who have completed the Adventure Grand Slam. This means that she has scaled the highest peak on every continent in the world and skied to both the North and South Poles. In addition, Alison was the first American to ski from west Antarctica to the South Pole, and acted as the team captain for the first American Women’s Everest Expedition. All of these achievements are made even more incredible when you learn that Alison suffers from Raynaud’s Disease, a circulatory condition that makes her extremely susceptible to frostbite. Kind of makes the cutthroat world of Wall Street ( which I am from) sound like child’s play.

As you can imagine, Alison’s experiences in some of the most harsh and extreme environments in the world have given her a unique outlook on life and leadership, because when the penalty for big mistakes is death, you tend to see things a bit differently. On The Edge outlines many unorthodox and outside the box theories of leadership, one of which is the idea that businesses need to start rewarding the risk takers more than those who have pristine track records, because while risks often go hand in hand with failure, it’s those willing to take those risks that you want on your side. Alison also talks about how to build cohesive teams, and interestingly enough, argues that sometimes it’s okay to let people have big egos.

On The Edge has already gotten great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review, Success Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, while Amazon has named it one the of the “Best Books of the Month” in the Business/Leadership Category.  Life is about fulfilling our leadership potential and I thank Alison for helping to show us the way.