Fighting ‘fake news’

Lisa Macpherson.

Lisa Macpherson, EMBA ’96, spent much of her career at the pinnacle of the marketing profession, with C-suite roles at such iconic, purpose-driven brands as Hallmark Cards and Timberland. 

“I loved the humanity of it,” she says. “Marketing is about understanding where consumers are going and anticipating their needs. For me, working with insanely creative product developers and agencies to meet those needs provided a strong left brain/right brain balance.”

Macpherson started in marketing at Fisher-Price and, after completing her Executive MBA in 1996, became senior vice president of global marketing for the $1 billion children’s product brand. Following a stint at Timberland, she moved to Hallmark in 2000, overseeing product development for special-occasion gifts and, later, merchandising and retail operations for Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

By 2009, she was named chief marketing officer, spearheading Hallmark’s transition to data-driven marketing across digital, social and mobile platforms. Afterward, she led online retailer Custom Ink’s evolution to better capture and use consumer data, too.

But as digital technology revolutionized how we all interact and do business, Macpherson saw empathy and curiosity replaced by analytics and algorithms—and chose to pivot her career.

“I became concerned about the impact digital transformation—and the dominance of a small group of platforms—had on our personal well-being, our society and our democracy,” she says. “Algorithms and machine learning could be used to discriminate and spread hate speech; the business model of civic journalism was crumbling.

“I decided to shift to the other side and use my knowledge of how these technologies work to undo some of that harm.”

Today, Macpherson is a senior policy fellow at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that serve the public interest in copyright, telecommunications and internet law. She also is a senior fellow in Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative—a role that has been twice extended from its initial one-year commitment.

Her research and advocacy efforts focus on countering disinformation online and developing alternative business models for local journalism. Macpherson has presented research on gender equity in media, and published a white paper advocating for a “Superfund for the Internet” with Yale’s Initiative on Intermediaries and Information. Through events and mainstream press, she’s urged other chief marketers to prioritize content integrity and responsible data management.

“Journalism is a pillar of democracy. When that goes away, and mis- and disinformation fills its place, we become less informed as citizens,” Macpherson says. “This isn’t theoretical—we saw during the insurrection at the Capitol that disinformation can create real-world harm. Overcoming this challenge will require a system of solutions, including competition and antitrust regulations, as well as smart policies for content moderation on digital platforms. That’s where I’ve chosen to focus my energy.”

Through all the shifts in her career, Macpherson says her School of Management education has been key to her success.

“If there’s one word to summarize what I took away from the EMBA program, it’s confidence,” she says. “During that time, I developed the soft skills that enabled me to change companies and industries—things like agility, curiosity, time management, teamwork and an understanding of how organizations fit together and how to set goals that align different functions.”

By Matthew Biddle