Bill Novelli is CEO of AARP, a membership organization of 40 million people age 50 and older, half of whom remain actively employed. AARP’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for all as we age. Prior to joining AARP, Mr. Novelli was President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose mandate is to change public policies and the social environment, limit tobacco companies’ marketing and sales practices to children and serve as a counterforce to the tobacco industry and its special interests. He now serves as chairman of the board. He was also Executive Vice President of CARE, the world’s largest private relief and development organization.
Mr. Novelli is a recognized leader in social marketing and social change, and has managed programs in cancer control, diet and nutrition, cardiovascular health, reproductive health, infant survival, pay increases for educators, charitable giving and other programs in the U.S. and the developing world. His book, 50+: Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life, was updated in 2008. Mr. Novelli serves on a number of boards and advisory committees. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. from Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, and pursued doctoral studies at New York University.
Question: Do you bring your marketing experience to lobbying?
Bill Novelli: Every day. The way I see myself is I’m a person with a marketing and marketing communications background. And I try to apply those tools, those principles and practices to social change. So whether it’s, for example, trying to increase physical activity in people 50 and older; or whether it’s trying to provide education for safe driving; or to help people acquire and protect financial assets – all those different kinds of things that we care about – I believe that you can apply marketing and marketing communications to those kinds of things. Now of course there are a lot of differences because, you know, those are much more difficult subjects to deal with than just selling a product. But every day I apply those principles, and I think that they are principles that are very useful in social change.
I think that there’s always this discussion about a nanny state, or “Is marketing manipulative?” When you’re dealing with these tough issues, they are intractable. They are very difficult to deal with. So if you take something like fixing social security, or healthcare reform, these are issues where we need to bring all parties together. We need to listen to all sides of the debate. So it’s not . . . It’s not like there’s no nuance to the argument. The basic problem is . . . is getting people to focus, and getting political will. Getting political courage to tackle the issues.
Question: Is it difficult to get government officials’ attention?
Transcript: Yeah. Lobbying today . . . or let us say . . . we call it “advocacy” because it’s really broader than just lobbying. But the whole idea of advocacy is one way that you . . . you can address social change. There are other ways as well. We need public education. We need legal strategies. We need all kinds of ways to . . . to move the needle on these big issues. But advocacy . . . advocating for policy change is one way to do that. And it’s very, very difficult to do in America today because the two political parties are so opposed to each other. There is such partisan gridlock. It’s almost toxic at this point. And getting that . . . getting that broken down . . . getting that gridlock broken down so that . . . so that we can make progress in terms of policy is very, very tough.
Recorded on: 9/27/07