Embracing change and championing children: Dawn Lyons
Embracing change and championing children: Dawn Lyons
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Embracing change took Fisher alumna Dawn Lyons (BSBA ’01) from a career marketing consumer product goods to leading an Emmy award-winning team with passion and purpose.
When Dawn Lyons graduated, she was on the corporate fast track to a corner office marketing consumer product goods. At least she thought she was.
Dawn Lyons willingly embraces change, and often, she is a change agent.
As a child, Dawn spent time in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Naturally, she was familiar with Ohio State but chose to attend George Washington University (GW) in Washington D.C., with intentions of earning a degree in political science.
At GW she discovered something about herself.
“I didn’t like political science or GW,” says Dawn. “I’m a firm believer if something’s not working, change it. Try to fix it, make the effort, but recognize you have a choice and can go in a different direction.”
With that mentality, Dawn transferred to Fisher in the middle of her sophomore year and joined her brother as an Ohio State student.
Something for everyone
Dawn treasures the diversity of Ohio State — the people, academics and the scope of research that happens on campus. As a football fan, she spent many Saturdays in Ohio Stadium; but she’s proud that athletics isn’t the only thing Ohio State is known for.
“What I love about Ohio State is that it has something for everyone. It doesn’t matter what your interest or passion is, there’s something there for you,” says Dawn.
She was involved in Honors Cohort (Cohort), Business Builders, Mortar Board, and was a member of both the American Marketing Association’s student chapter and the Transportation and Logistics Association, the latter a reflection of her minor.
Dawn balanced out her formal education with a commitment to service, volunteering for the March of Dimes. She has served as the national chair for the nonprofit’s youth organizations since 1997 and served as a Walk for Babies Committee member for her local Connecticut chapter.
“I think we can all ask ourselves, ‘What is my particular role in making the world better,’” Dawn says.
Finding her focus
One of her favorite Cohort experiences was a trip to Chicago which included a visit to the advertising agency leader, Leo Burnett Worldwide. For Dawn, the visit sparked an interest in pursuing a marketing degree with visions of a career at a global advertising agency.
And then she heard a presentation during one of her Cohort classes. It was a real-life “a-ha moment” for her when a guest speaker from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble (P&G) presented on marketing for the multinational consumer goods company.
“That was it. After hearing that presentation, I knew what I wanted to do,” Dawn says. “Everything clicked — the way the industry worked and how marketing in this space went beyond traditional marketing into general management. It all resonated with me.”
After graduation, she accepted a position as an assistant brand manager with P&G. During the decade she was with P&G, Dawn ascended to a role where she led strategy and marketing plan elements for brands with more than $1B in annual sales, like Downy, Swiffer and Duracell, the latter of which took her from her home base in Cincinnati to Ridgefield, Connecticut.
“It’s important to learn from every opportunity, from every manager. Change is inevitable, so it’s important to embrace it and see how it can make you better,” she says.
Ultimately, she craved a new challenge and became an independent marketing consultant. The freedom and flexibility to select her own clients and work at her own pace were welcomed changes, but in the end, she had another epiphany about herself: she missed the collaboration that comes with being part of a team.
An opportunity to be the marketing director of personal care for Helen of Troy allowed her to stay in Connecticut. The company’s portfolio includes well-known beauty brands PERT, Revlon and drybar.
Driven to help
Nearly three years after she moved to Ridgefield, tragedy struck.
On December 14, 2012, 20 first-graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in nearby Newtown, Connecticut.
Just 25 minutes away from the site of the shooting, Dawn’s two-year-old son, Tyler, was safely ensconced in his daycare classroom. But Dawn remembers the terrifying moment when she heard the news.
“I remember leaving work immediately,” she says. “I had to get to Tyler — I just needed to hold him. It was surreal — how did this happen in my backyard?”
Like others in the community, she was compelled to take action, to do something helpful. She didn’t know what that ‘something’ was at the time, but on December 15, she drove northeast to Newtown, parked in a church parking lot across from the elementary school, walked into the church where families had gathered, and asked “How can I help?”
“I was inspired by these parents,” she says. “The day after their children were killed, they were coming together to find ways to take this pivotal moment and make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else.”
A new direction
In the aftermath, the Sandy Hook Promise organization was formed.
Since that day in the church, Dawn followed the parents as they organized, planned and planted the grassroots effort to create safer schools. She saw how their vision coalesced from a conversation in a church sanctuary to one of the most influential nonprofits in the country.
When an opportunity to join the staff opened, she went for it.
She’s been the vice president of marketing and programs for Sandy Hook Promise since April 2018.
“It was the culmination of my desire to have a positive impact and to solve problems — to have a direct impact on people and the communities they live in,” says Dawn.
“Fisher prepared me with the technical skills I needed as a marketer, but also provided a foundation for me to pursue leadership roles. In the private sector, I was able to hone those skills, and now I’m channeling all of my expertise into the transformational work of this organization.”
The reminders of the organization’s important work are impossible to escape. Dawn’s daughter, Maddie, now a first-grader, shares a birthday with Daniel Barden, one of the first-grade students killed that day. Dawn works closely every day with Mark Barden, Daniel’s father and Sandy Hook Promise’s co-founder, managing director and board member.
Their work is personal.
At Sandy Hook Promise, Dawn’s days are powered by work in brand management, program development, public relations, marketing, research and special events. Today, she establishes partnerships with creative agencies just like the one that launched her interest in marketing as a Fisher student.
It was her work with two such partner companies that led to a coveted and prestigious industry award.
In September, Sandy Hook Promise, Smuggler Productions, and BBDO New York received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial of 2019 for their public service announcement (PSA), “Back to School Essentials.”
The Television Academy of Arts and Sciences selected the PSA over ads by Apple, Amazon, Jeep and P&G.
“The PSA has more than 200 million views across multiple channels,” Dawn says. “It’s huge. Not because of the Emmy win, but of what the win symbolized — it’s a difficult message to deliver, but we are saving lives with this PSA.”
She admits that an Emmy is one of the highest professional honors she could achieve, but it’s almost impossible to celebrate the accomplishment.
“It’s an ad that should never have to be created,” she says.
Sandy Hook Promise not only honors the victims of the shooting, but it also empowers youth and unites those who value the protection of
children to take meaningful action in their schools, homes and communities.
It is sobering work. On the tough days, Dawn looks to the parents who founded the organization and draws strength from their courage.
“They’ve taken the worst day of their life and are using it to make positive change in the world,” she says.
At the end of the day, she also has her most poignant, precious reminders waiting for her at home: her two children, Tyler, 10, and Maddie, 7.
When they ask her about her job, and what she does at work, she hugs them close and whispers, “I help keep kids safe.”
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I think we can all ask ourselves, 'What is my particular role in making the world better?'
Watch the Emmy award-winning PSA
Please note, the Sandy Hook Promise PSA, "Back to School Essentials" contains sensitive content related to school shootings that may be upsetting to some viewers.
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