The new Lerner Center will work across departments to catalyze advocacy work
Published January 18, 2022
For the late Sid Lerner, coming up with a great idea was always the easy assignment. The legendary Madison Avenue ad executive knew the real challenge was in selling that idea to change behavior—whether that meant convincing the consumer to buy Charmin toilet paper or to skip meat once a week. He also knew that success depended on a message that was simple and easy to implement.
Sid’s keep-it-simple approach was a hands-down winner not only in the advertising world but also in public health, a field for which Sid and his wife, Helaine, shared a passion. One of Sid’s most powerful legacies is the Meatless Monday campaign. Launched in 2003, it has become a public health advocacy phenomenon, growing exponentially in the U.S. and globally, and appealing to individuals, hospitals, schools, businesses, NGOs, governments, and whole communities.
To honor Sid’s commitment to public health advocacy, Helaine recently provided generous funding to support merging two of the Bloomberg School’s advocacy-focused centers—the Center for Public Health Advocacy and the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion—to create the Lerner Center for Public Health Advocacy. This gift complements the couple’s earlier advocacy programming commitments, which include endowing a professorship in 2018 to honor the School’s Deans Emeriti Al Sommer and Mike Klag and creating an award for outstanding public health advocacy practitioners.
Recognized as a unique and brilliant mind with a great sense of humor, Sid challenged conventional thinking and inspired many in the public health community to incorporate novel health communications strategies with evidence-based science to address urgent public health problems. With the success of the Meatless Monday campaign, Sid realized Monday could serve as “the January of the week,” an easy reset point for more public health behaviors, like quitting smoking or exercising more. Today, the Monday Campaigns transform the first day of the work week from a gloomy downer to a marvelous fresh start, or as Sid put it, “a day when all health breaks loose!”
Helaine’s gift will catalyze the School’s future public health advocacy work, empowering the new Lerner Center’s faculty and staff to work across departments to train the next generation of public health leaders in policy and decision-maker engagement. The Center will also serve as a home for partnerships, programs, and practice that drive public health progress, inspiring bold action for public health equity and impact.
Shelley Hearne, DrPH, MPH, the inaugural Deans Sommer and Klag Professor of the Practice for Public Health Advocacy, will direct the new Center, which will reside in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
“Sid Lerner was a true visionary,” said Hearne. “He knew how using a marketing approach to advance public health initiatives at both the individual and population level would amplify impact. We are thrilled to build on Sid’s legacy and teach the next generation of public health leaders the skills and techniques that will help them drive evidence-based public health solutions more effectively.
“The new Lerner Center for Public Health Advocacy will help us teach students how to convey public health science and policy as well as advocate for a healthier future for everyone,” said Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75. “We are grateful that Helaine is honoring Sid and their mutual commitment to the School in this way. Sid recognized that good science wasn’t enough—that for us to succeed, we need to communicate public health findings in ways that are accessible and actionable.”
Sid knew long ago that public health data by itself could not drive change. Instead, he showed the public health community how to use a bit of marketing savvy: Connect evidence to an appealing concept, propose straightforward actions, and turn mundane interventions into breakout winners. Even today, a year since his passing, it's not hard to imagine Sid reminding us that the School's primary mission should be to “bring the public to public health.”
Suzanne Flinchbaugh is a writer in the Office of External Affairs at the Bloomberg School. For more information about making a gift to support public health advocacy programs or other initiatives at the Bloomberg School, please contact Heath Elliott, Associate Dean of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org