Gavin Portnoy: 40 Under 40 2015

Executive director, digital media, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

When tensions run high, most PR professionals know it’s best to remember: "Hey, we’re not saving lives here; let’s take a breath." But for Gavin Portnoy, his job is exactly that.

As the executive director of digital media at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, he is charged with developing smart digital communications tactics to reach the public and ultimately help find children who have gone missing. It is about as high stakes as it gets.

Portnoy only recently joined the center after a decade as a producer, writer, and editor in the film and television industries. Clients included Discovery Communications, History Channel, Think Food Group, Lifetime, and PBS.

Before that he spent nearly six years as one of the lead supervisors of America’s Most Wanted and was responsible for directing and overseeing all aspects of the show’s post-production and redesigned the format of the weekly broadcast. 

By the time he walked into the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Portnoy had a "vision to completely revolutionize the way we in the US help bring missing and sexually exploited children home," say colleagues. That vision was digital.

Portnoy put his years of storytelling and production skills to work and in doing so created a new standard and new hope in the child-finding field.

He also created a digital media poster distribution method that gained 100 times more engagement than traditional posters. Earlier this year, he implemented a geo-targeting system to ensure missing-children posters appear in the regions where those children went missing and the areas where they are suspected to be located. In one month, it brought home six kids.

Recognizing the enormous potential of social media to activate the public in the search for kids, he worked not only to grow the center’s Facebook page audience, but also to diversify it. In just four months’ time, he grew total reach to more than 3.5 million users from a base of around 200,000, increased engagement with younger and older members, and focused on targeting those in a position to help.

"He is an innovator in the best kind of way," concludes a colleague. "Gavin has found a way to utilize his unique talents to make our country safer."

- Portnoy founded his own production company, Exit 7 Entertainment, working for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the AFL-CIO

- "I pride myself on being a storytelling, television-producing Swiss army knife," is just one of his favorite sayings

- In his off hours, you will find Portnoy on the water with his wife, Lily, and their two rescue dogs, Gully and Kaya

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