Noopur Agarwal is the vice president of social impact for the MTV Entertainment Group. As part of her ongoing work around mental health, the Ad Council recently partnered with Noopur and her team on #AloneTogether, which launched in the early days of COVID-19, and we are currently working with her on her cross-industry mental health storytelling initiative that includes a Mental Health Media Guide providing best practices and evidence-based recommendations to support storytellers at any phase in the production process. We are also proud to work closely with Noopur and her team to launch Mental Health Action Day on May 20.
We talked to Noopur about her career, the power of building coalitions focused on mental health, and a lesson she learned in college that she’s carried with her ever since.
Could you elaborate on your background at ViacomCBS and your partnership with the Ad Council? How do you define your role, and how do you define success?
I am the vice president of social impact at the MTV Entertainment Group, which consists of brands like MTV, Comedy Central and VH1 among others. I’ve been with ViacomCBS for nearly 15 years, and I have had the privilege of leveraging our media superpowers to drive culture change on critical social issues.
In my role, I’m lucky enough to collaborate with incredible partners. Some of those relationships go back over a decade, like my relationship with the Ad Council. We’ve collaborated on campaigns, shared knowledge, lifted up each other’s work and made so much meaningful impact together.
For me, success is in the people I get to touch through my work, whether it’s the amazing partners I get to support or the audience members we get to empower and activate.
Mental health issues have been exacerbated exponentially by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to feel the effects for years to come. What were your guiding principles for #AloneTogether, and how did they compare to, or help inform, your approach on the Mental Health Storytelling Initiative?
Both #AloneTogether and the Mental Health Storytelling Initiative are informed by our belief that there is power in partnership. When trying to address a problem as significant as mental health, we have to join forces to make the kind of impact that is desperately needed.
The Mental Health Storytelling Coalition has now grown to over two dozen partners, consisting of the biggest companies in media alongside the nation’s leading mental health experts and nonprofit organizations. Together we are developing groundbreaking resources to empower content creators to expand positive mental health portrayals—and in doing so, we hope to fundamentally shift the narrative on mental health.
How has the conversation about mental health changed since COVID-19? How can brands, corporations and influencers foster productive conversations on this issue, and what is their role in doing so?
COVID-19 has propelled the conversation about mental health to center stage in a way that I haven’t seen in all my years working on the issue. It feels like we’ve reached a turning point where mental health is finally being understood as something that impacts everyone, and something that requires urgent attention.
Now that we’re in this unique moment of mental health gaining recognition as a critical issue, brands, corporations and influencers have a powerful opportunity to translate this increased awareness to action—whether that’s supporting employees, connecting consumers and fans to resources or advocating for systemic change.
Your group is behind the creation of a national Mental Health Action Day on May 20. Could you talk a bit about what the day will entail?
Mental Health Action Day is about creating a singular day when nonprofits, brands and influential leaders can come together to drive our culture from awareness to action on mental health and provide tangible tools to take the first step for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our community.
Each partner will activate in a way that’s authentic and effective for them, with a goal of driving widespread action for mental health.
What is the benefit of an activation around a specific calendar date, and how does that translate into increased awareness and action year-round?
We hope the collective voice of over 1,000 partners (and counting!) on a specific day will be impossible to miss and create the momentum we need to make meaningful progress on this issue going forward.
What are the most important elements of constructive storytelling for any creative that addresses mental health?
The Mental Health Storytelling Coalition released the Mental Health Media Guide in early May, which provides a plethora of best practices for telling any kind of story relating to mental health. I hope creators will visit the site to get all the details, but I will highlight two recommendations: 1) Engage experts and do so early in your creative process. 2) Connect your audience to resources.
With these two practices alone, storytelling can have a massive impact on improving mental health.
Looking back at your own career, how do you think you got where you are? Have you been given any powerful advice that helped you on your journey?
I feel grateful to have always had fierce support from my friends and family, along with helpful advice to steer me throughout my life. But there is one particular story that has stayed with me.
When I was in college, I was trying to get into a specific class that was oversubscribed. I could not imagine graduating without taking this class, so I emailed the professor numerous times, pleading my case to get a spot. After several attempts, I finally received a response. I was certain it was going to be a refusal, but instead the message said, “Let this be a lesson to you: persistence pays.” I was floored that it worked. And ever since then, I have always remained persistent in pursuit of my goals.