Marshaling the Ad Industry's Resources

Conlon was drawn to the Ad Council's mission of service

Earlier this month, radio and billboard behemoth Clear Channel donated $120 million to the Ad Council, the nation's biggest producer of public-service announcements.

"We have been talking to lots of media companies over the last several months," says Ad Council President and CEO Peggy Conlon. "The announcement by Clear Channel is the largest upfront commitment we have had from a media company." In fact, it's the largest pledge the Ad Council has received in its 60-year history.

It's not surprising that the hefty donation came during Conlon's leadership. A look at her 30 years in public relations and publishing would reveal similar triumphs, including an eight-year tenure as publisher of BROADCASTING & CABLE during which time she doubled its size by introducing cable- and technology-ad revenue streams.

The oldest of 15 children, Conlon received her master's degree in communications from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. She immediately went to work for a California-based ad agency and soon moved on to run the in-house ad agency for EECO, an electronics manufacturer. At the same time, she was a public affairs officer in the Navy's Ready Reserve. She was based in the Los Angeles Naval Information Office, which served as a liaison between the Navy and the entertainment industry.

However, she felt that her effort as the director of the PR agency just wasn't paying financial dividends. "I wanted to have a little more influence over how well I did. But I didn't want to leave communications. So I thought the best of both worlds would be to go into publishing."

In 1982, Conlon joined CMP Media. Within two years, she was named national sales manager and moved from California to New York, where her tenacity reaped several promotions, culminating in her appointment as group publisher of the electronics division in the late 1980s. By the early '90s, however, the once explosive industry was slowing down, and Conlon's group was in trouble. "I was eliminating jobs and doing all of those things you have to do when you are no longer in a growth mode."

Conlon sought out other opportunities and was subsequently invited by Cahners (now Reed Business Information) to become the publisher of BROADCASTING
with the understanding that she would take the magazine into the cable business.

"I was incredibly happy at BROADCASTING & CABLE, with never a thought of leaving," Conlon says. "One day, I'm sitting at my desk and reading my mail, and there was an announcement that Ruth Wooden, president of the Ad Council, was leaving. It just hit me, 'Oh my God, I would love that job.'"

Conlon, who had done volunteer work with the non-profit organization and was drawn to its public-service mission, put feelers out to members of its board and, before long, became the Ad Council's fourth president.

Two years into her new role, Conlon earned her stripes when the Ad Council mobilized to help such organizations as FEMA and the Red Cross in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Within days, the Ad Council delivered several PSAs, including the now famous "I Am an American" spot and an ad featuring First Lady Laura Bush.

"We decided, just as the Ad Council had played that role on behalf of the country 60 years ago, it would be the organization once again to marshal the resources of the advertising industry in support of messages that would help us in the war on terrorism," Conlon says. The organization has issued several PSAs in the same vein, including the "Freedom" campaign, which launched its second phase last month.