Portraits of Leadership

The Social Impact team at MTV brands Confronts COVID-19

Hyperakt’s interview series hands the mic to nonprofit and cultural leaders around the nation as they guide their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we’re talking with Brianna Cayo Cotter, SVP of Social Impact for MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo at ViacomCBS.

From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?

This is a generation-defining moment that is going to create fundamental shifts in our culture and our institutions. The two things that are most top of mind to me are how we can seize this moment to push for some overdue changes to make it easier for everyone to vote. There needs to be way more storytelling and accessible information to make it easier for people to register and then know what their options are to vote this year. And how we are going to ensure that people are able to take care of their emotional and mental well-being. Mental health issues were already a major concern for our audience and the Coronavirus is only exacerbating the problem in the short and longer term as we deal with the collective trauma of this experience.

We need to ramp up storytelling and content and campaigns that model healthy coping skills and increase access to help seeking resources.

How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?

In March we saw that young people were clearly not getting the social distancing message so we created the #AloneTogether campaign in partnership with the AdCouncil to make sure public health messages were getting to our audience. It started as an awareness campaign and has developed into an action campaign where our audience and shows have raised over $1 million for corona relief efforts. And we saw a need for a comprehensive site for action resources around mental health and well-being. So we created AloneTogether.com and our creative is now driving towards that across all of our networks and brands.

What gives you hope in this moment?

I am feeling so hopeful and inspired by the winners of our 2020 Prom Challenge. We teamed up with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote to reward high school students doing the most innovative and effective voter registrations campaigns at their schools. We had over 150 schools apply and every single one was so inspiring.

From students in Detroit doing voting themed pep rallies (before COVID) to a school in Houston that has started to do voter registration during Yearbook and Diploma pick-up (in PPE, of course). There are 4 million people turning 18 by the election and these amazing student leaders give me so much hope that GenZ is going to be the MOST civically engaged in history.

Explore recent Social Impact Squad initiatives including #AloneTogether and VoteEarlyDay.org. Read more interviews in the Portraits of Leadership series.

Hyperakt is a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. We believe in design’s power to build a future filled with courage, optimism, and honesty.

Are you a leader in the nonprofit, cultural, or design space? Want to share your perspective on confronting COVID-19? Please fill out this Google Form.

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Hyperakt crafts transformative brands and digital storytelling experiences for clear-eyed champions of social justice and creativity.

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