The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 left Americans feeling helpless, and devastated.
The country searched for answers and White House leaders looked to broadcasters to help make a difference. Gordon Smith, CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, met with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss solutions. While many focused on guns and video games, Smith noted that untreated mental illness was the common thread running through many recent tragedies.
This was also a deeply personal issue to Smith, who lost his son to suicide at the age of 22, after a struggle with mental illness. Smith committed the power of local radio and TV stations to start a national dialogue urging those who need help to seek treatment.
Our main goal was to reach those in the critical age range of 13 to 24, arguably the most cynical in our society. Young adults can smell insincerity a mile away, so we knew we had to be real.
Working with a team at Ogilvy Washington, we set out to produce a campaign with a simple message: It's OK to talk about how you're feeling. We wanted young adults to know that it's OK not to feel good - just speak up and get help.
For the spots, we cast young adult actors who had struggled, or were still struggling, with mental illness. We asked them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" knowing that teens struggling with mental illness can barely get through each day, let alone focus on the future.
Homestead Films brought these raw, honest interviews to life in spots urging teens to visit OK2Talk.org - a Tumblr page where they could share their feelings and access mental health and suicide prevention resources.
The results were phenomenal. In three months, local TV and radio stations across the country donated more than $22 million in airtime, driving more than 300,000 visits to the site where thousands have left messages - including personal cries for help.
More than 61,000 people have clicked Get Help, which provides access to the website mentalhealth.gov, underscoring the need for treatment by many in our society. The effort continues to reach millions with the message that it is important to talk about mental health.
Broadcasters help people every day. Whether it is collecting coats for children or shining a light on an issue such as mental illness, local stations are investing in a better society - an investment we can all be proud of. l Michelle Lehman is EVP of marketing, National Association of Broadcasters.