Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Ad Council, a 75-year-old non-profit, has nearly tripled the amount of media support for public service announcements (PSAs) over the six months that it typically manages in a year, its CEO tells Axios.

By the numbers: In total, it has generated nearly $370 million of donated media support around the coronavirus, compared to what it used to consider record contributions of $100 million for messaging around disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. 

  • At any given time, the 175-person group is actively working on 30+ campaigns to address different issues. But since March, "we have launched 20 additional distinct campaigns related to COVID," says Lisa Sherman, President and CEO of the Ad Council and ad industry veteran.
  • Some of the group's existing campaigns around things like hunger and mental health have also expanded drastically in the COVID-19 era.

Why it matters: Media and advertising, especially in the early days of a crisis, are some of the most effective ways to communicate with the public about emergency precautions and resources.

  • Public service announcements from The Ad Council has driven over 27 million impressions to the coronavirus.gov website.
  • "We have launched the most significant communications effort in our 75-year history," says Sherman. "The good news is that the organization is wired for crisis."

How it works: The group has a pro bono model. "We pick the big issues facing the country, and we work with content creators to create campaigns. They provide all of their talent and resources to do that on pro bono basis." Media companies donate ad inventory to run the PSAs.

Between the lines: The group runs PSAs catered to very different demographics, so it's hard for any one consumer to appreciate the full scope of what it manages.

  • It runs specific campaigns with Sesame Street, for example, around children and COVID-19, and others around caregiving and COVID-19 with AARP.
  • "The gaming community has really stepped up to help us connect with younger audiences, whether it's in-game content around these messages, or advertising," says Sherman.
  • The group created the first pro bono programmatic ad marketplace for social causes this year. Publishers and media companies can donate digital media inventory in support of the Ad Council’s COVID-19 digital PSAs.

The big picture: The Ad Council has long history of working with every presidential administration since World War II, and Sherman says it's been working closely with this administration amid the crisis, leveraging existing relationships with CDC and HHS.

What's next: "This is going to be the new normal for us," says Sherman.

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