“Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Editor’s note: Alicia Griffith is an account director, Amy Restko is an account planner, Corey Lewis is a senior print producer, Kristen McGirk is a senior VP, account director, Pam Sextro-Kelly is an HR generalist, Tara Dominic is a project manager, and Dale Taylor is president and CEO, AbelsonTaylor.
ALICIA: I’ve been at AbelsonTaylor for nine years in June. I was actually working for a medical device company for a short time, and before that I was involved in the corporate wellness aspect of health and wellness. I was an exercise science major, and I wanted to blend both my passion for science with a business aspect. So that’s why I was interested in AbelsonTaylor, because it really intersected between both of those areas.
AMY: I joined AbelsonTaylor about three years ago. A coworker that I worked with before worked here and she had told me about it, and so I interviewed and it was the right time and I made the move.
COREY: I’m a print guy, I have a print background. My dad owned a printing company for many years. My grandfather worked in a paper mill in Wisconsin. He’s a first generation immigrant from Germany and my grandmother worked for Hallmark in the ‘60s as an art director. I worked for a printer here in Chicago in the West Loop neighborhood and we did a lot of work for agencies. I decided that I really wanted to be on the other side of things, not so much of a seller but a buyer, and to be around a lot of creative people and help execute the amazing work that creators come up with. So I made the move to the agency, and now I work with the creatives to make sure that their visions are coming to life in print. I’ve been here about five years now and, honestly, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
KRISTEN: I came to AbelsonTaylor because, actually, I worked at Abbott, which is now AbbVie. I was actually a client, and then I moved over to the agency side. And I’ve been here for 19 years now. My title is senior VP, account director.
PAM: I am the HR generalist here and I’ve been at AT for about six and a half years. Did some HR at my last company and this opportunity came to me through a friend. With HR the nice part is that you’re helping everybody, and so that’s one piece that I’ve always really enjoyed, which is what brought me into the career, and it’s such a great culture here at AT. This was my first experience at a health care marketing agency.
TARA: I started at AT in April of 2016, and then left for another agency, but then came back last September. And health care was a path that was already in my family. My mom works at a hospital. My grandmother worked at a hospital. A lot of my aunts and uncles work at hospitals. So, I think it was just going into something with healthcare/pharma that led me here.
DALE: We’ve had this tradition of Free Lunch Friday, which cost $2 and then the agency would match the $2, and we give that money to the Chicago Food Depository. That’s really where it started at AbelsonTaylor, and that was 30 years ago, at least. We’ve given them well in excess of $1 million since then, from Free Lunch Friday. Also, for the agency’s first two years, we would give Christmas gifts to our clients, until I realized that not only did no one ever thank us for it or even pay much attention, but it seemed a little sleazy. So instead, we started, instead of giving Christmas gifts to clients, giving major donations to Heifer International and using that donation as a way of creating a really cool video about Heifer and about what we were doing. That’s really where it started.
ALICIA: I started mid-year, and the JP Morgan corporate challenge had just happened a few weeks before. I had always participated as a runner with some of my friends, and their companies did it. So I asked if AT participated, and how could I help out, try to get more people involved, just really wanting people to get involved and do something that’s bigger than the agency and can create more of a sense of community as well. So I have been working on that corporate challenge for the past eight years now, and have been the co-captain for three or four years.
AMY: Social responsibility is something that has always been important to me. I asked in my interview, what kinds of things do you offer in terms of volunteering? So that was a motivator for me to come here, actually. I remember them talking about how they were involved with Heifer. Heifer International is a non-profit that we work with a lot here. My grandparents, ever since I was little, used to get us a goat from Heifer International. You could give a goat to a family in need anywhere in the world, to help them try to break out of poverty, maybe they can use the milk to sell and they can feed their family with it. It was just a really important thing to our family all the time. When I hear that AT worked with them, it was exciting. So I just met people and signed up for all the volunteer opportunities that I could.
COREY: It wasn’t until a little bit later in my career that I discovered it, honestly. I had known about it but frankly, I have always been a bit of a company man. I come in early, leave late, work straight through, and don’t take a lunch – that kind of thing. It never really occurred to me in the first couple of years of working here to really participate in that. Hearts at Work to me was something that other people had the time to do.
KRISTEN: Hearts at Work came to be, I think it was about 10 years ago. Before that, our philanthropic efforts were a little disjointed. We would do something over here, we would partner with someone. There was no organization, and so we developed this umbrella program called Hearts at Work, to put some structure in place and to also craft a mission behind what we were trying to accomplish, which was to find philanthropic partners that would provide our employees avenues to give back to others within our community or globally, and also to showcase some of the talents that we have here at the agency.
PAM: I was in charged with HR, so social responsibility was something that we would tell people about on the first day. When I first started getting into it, we do a really big initiative in the winter, called Winterfest. There’s are a lot of giving opportunities – it has really progressed throughout the years, but it really started when I started working here because I started here in July and then Winterfest did really well in December.
TARA: I actually found out about it within the first few months of starting at AT. I noticed that a lot of people were out volunteering, and they had a lot of outside of work volunteer opportunities that seemed really great, and those are things that I’m very much interested in. Volunteer work is very important to me, so I think what AT has been doing and what they are doing currently has been an extraordinary opportunity.
DALE: Within the last 15 years, we’ve realized that social responsibility programs are an important part of our offering to the staff. It’s a question that we get asked all the time in interviews: “What do you do to give back?” We hear all the time how important it is to provide opportunities to AbelsonTaylor employees to work with people that are not usually working with the agency on charitable activities. I believe our employees feel proud to work for a company that thinks it’s important to support the homeless and to support healthcare charities around the country and the world. People feel better about the work that they do if they know that their employer is doing good. Obviously our business is promoting healthcare products, and everyone depends on that for making a living, but the people that work for us want to see that we’re doing something for the community. And not just the local community, but the larger community.
ALICIA: We go to schools and we’ll do various projects. Whether it’d be painting murals or just doing activities with the kids and working with the day camp. So I’ve participated in the urban initiatives partnership for five years. Then around the holidays, we partner with a lot of organizations. A day off and wrapping presents and making sure that however I can help with – whether it’s delivering or actually going out and getting presents and – I just like to be involved at that time of the year as well. Then actually, this coming Sunday, we are – this is the first time we’re doing this – we’re partnering in being a corporate sponsor for the Respiratory Health Association and we have a team; there’s 10 of us and we’re climbing 94 flights of stairs at the Hancock Center.
AMY: We have the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago, which houses kids from the Children’s Hospital who have to stay for long periods of time and don’t have the money to do that. We go every six months or so, we plan a whole dinner, bring all the groceries, cook a homemade meal, and then we serve it to the families there. That’s something that I had done at another company and asked if we could start that here, and Kristen was all for it. Something that I loved, too, was the fact that they were open to me bringing more ideas. The agency just jumped on it, and so now we do it every six months and have about 30 people all go and cook dinner for the families and meet the families. That’s been really cool.
COREY: My first event for Hearts at Work, we went to Urban Initiatives, which is an educational program in the Southside neighborhood of Chicago. It was playing with kids that are in this game program at a school, playing baseball with them, playing kickball with them, serving them a nutritious lunch, doing an arts and crafts project with them. That was my first exposure, and after that, I was hooked. Any time a Hearts at Work event comes up, I immediately sign up for it. Just being away from office for those few hours and being able to have that positive impact on the community to me meant the world.
KRISTEN: One of the first big events that they organized, which we still hold, is Winterfest, which is at the end of the year, right around the holidays. We partner with eight different charities to buy gifts for children, provide warm clothes to those who don’t have a home. We do a booth raffle every year, which is really popular, that raises a lot of money. Each year that charities change, depending on who wants to run it. For each initiative, somebody at the agency raises their hand to say, “I’ll run the booth raffle.” “I’ll be in charge of the coat drive.” That was probably the first big initiative that we took on with Hearts at Work.
PAM: One of my favorite things that we have here is Christmas about Cancer. Being a recent mom, but I don’t think you need to be a mom, there are some kids who are having just a really hard – go with cancer, and we give gifts to their families. I always want to keep up on them, and then sometimes we find out that they don’t make it. It just makes you appreciate not only what you have, but to be able to help somebody, even if it’s just for a moment and even if that moment passes very quickly, anything you can do to bring a smile to that child’s face just even for a moment.
TARA: So, the first one that I actually did, within a few weeks of starting at AT, was volunteering to go to a local soup kitchen here in Chicago. I was a little nervous because it was my first time doing something like that outside of volunteering in high school and college. But once I got there everyone was super welcoming. We all have matching agency t-shirts that we wear.
DALE: Staff members will come to me or to Kristen and say, “I’ve heard about this organization. We’d like to support it.” We almost always say yes. The more, the better. Right now, 60 percent of the employees at AbelsonTaylor take an active role in one of these activities during the year, whether it’s serving meals to the homeless or working with Chicago public school kids and areas that don’t get adequate funding and helping them with all sorts of different activities. It sort of grew organically, since the generation of people that we’re hiring so often now, the much-maligned millennials, really do want to work for a company that does more than just try to make money. It’s been a good deal for us and for the staff and for the charities that we support.
ALICIA: The philanthropic efforts of an organization, to me, speaks volumes about priorities. If it’s going to be a place that is only focused and head down on the work at hand and in no way wants to be a part of the community and provide resources to the less fortunate, then what’s the point? What are you doing? Obviously our day to day jobs are extremely important, but being able to give back to your community, it builds that sense of community within your own company too, and a sense of pride that you are doing something bigger than yourself.
AMY: A big thing is, it’s made me appreciate my company more and given me more reason than just the work to want to stay here long-term, because I feel more engaged with my coworkers. You get to know them on a personal level and get to know what their passions are, see that they are good people who are trying to help others. And that inspires better work, honestly, because you’re better at collaborating with each other. You get to know each other on a personal level and it ultimately helps the work and helps you want to stay at this company.
COREY: I think it has impacted me personally just by the amount of free time now that I choose to dedicate to it. For The Chicago Help Initiative, they had a 5k and 10k race last year down Michigan Avenue. It was on a Saturday. As soon as they asked me for help, they’re like, “Hey, Corey. We’ve got this run that we’re trying to sponsor and we’re not sure really if anybody at your work would be interested in participating, but all the proceeds go to our charity.” I’m like, “No. That’s it, I’m in. And I’m going to try and get as many people as possible to run this thing with me.” I’m not a runner. Was out of breath at the first mile. But we got as many people as we could to come in on a Saturday and run and support this charity because I feel so strongly about it.
KRISTEN: Being good corporate partners within a community means that you do need to have some type of corporate social responsibility outlook. We are a fairly large agency within Chicago, and if we don’t continue to make Chicago a better place to live, not only for the people that are working here, but for our community, we’re doing a disservice. So it’s a big part of who we need to be from a corporate perspective, but also because we do work for a health and wellness advertising agency, we need to make sure that we are raising awareness of health and wellness issues within our community as well. Doing that is just a perfect partnership.
PAM: I’ve worked for a few different companies, and what makes AT different is the sheer number of volunteer opportunities here. Some companies will have a big corporate partnership with a nonprofit or one big company outing. But at AT we have so many different things going on all the time. If you miss out on one thing, you can try another. That’s what really sets AT apart from the other places I’ve worked.
TARA: If it makes your employees happy, do it. I understand the financial bottom line, being a project manager, but you also have to understand that happy employees drive a business. Being out of the office and communicating with other people face-to-face, it absolutely helps with the creative process. This might not fly with most CEOs, but it really doesn’t always have to be about the money. It’s about making people happy, and your employees are part of a larger community, and you want them to continue to give back to the community that sustains them and sustains your business.
DALE: At the end of the day, you want to feel good about the place where you work. The fact that we do these kinds of things, because of them, all of the owners and all of the staff at AbelsonTaylor feel better about what they do every day. It’s not always the perfect industry to work in. There are lots of frustrations. But knowing that you work for a company that cares, that you work with other people who care, that can make all the difference.