By Jenny Berg Posted August 7, 2009, 12:41 PM EDT
CHICAGO On Wednesday, ad agency Leo Burnett turned 74 years old. To celebrate, each of its worldwide offices hosted a celebration, and in Chicago approximately 1,000 employees began the day with a Hearty Boys-catered spread of Thai custard buns, sesame balls with bean paste, and coconut-sprinkled pumpkin pastries. “This year, our U.K. office took the lead on developing a theme, and they came up with 'Try Something New,” said Michelle Mahoney, director of work life for the company's U.S. operation. After brainstorming ways to play out the the theme, which left “endless possibilities,” Mahoney said, she and her team came up with the idea of “swapping offices for the day with the Leo Burnett Thailand headquarters.”
In addition to the thematic breakfast, the event involved activities on each of Leo Burnett's 20 floors, where employees participated in such things as Thai language and dance classes. “We also got some artwork from our Thailand employees, and we sent them some of ours.” Mahoney said. “We're a company of creative artists, so we have an [in-house] art gallery that displays employees' photographs, videos, and glasswork."
In a slight break from the Thailand theme, other floors hosted activities such as a disco-themed shuffleboard tournament, which employed a sand-covered conference table, lights, and an Afro-wearing announcer. “Apart from the lobby, the main hub of the event was on the 21st floor," Mahoney said. There, employees collected $74 in cash, as part of a Leo Burnett anniversary-party tradition that annually gives employees $1 each year that it's been in business.
Once given their cash, guests could opt to donate it to one of four charities that “are near and dear to Leo Burnett's heart,” Mahoney said. Each of the possible beneficiaries had on-site representation. Staffers from the Anti-Cruelty Society brought puppies and kittens; the Ronald McDonald House sent its eponymous clown; six kids from the Off the Street Club, a charity that provides inner-city youth with after-school activities, attended the event; and there were also representatives from the city's Greater Food Depository. ”We raised $13,000 in two hours,” Mahoney noted.
Throughout the day, attendees received raffle tickets for each dollar that they donated and for each activity they participated in, and entered for prizes such as a month of free parking, a one-night stay at the Wit Hotel, and, for the grand prize, a trip for two to Thailand. At around noon, employees headed to the building lobby, where Leo Burnett president Rich Stoddart pulled winning entries and spoke about the day and the company's heritage.
Mahoney said that this year's planning process was relatively obstacle-free. “We've had challenges in the past,“ she said. “We used to have as many as 15 people planning the event, and it was sort of too many people doing too many things. This year, only four of us spearheaded the planning, and it helped focus things."