First, it was a mindfulness and self-compassion workshop. Financial wellness is next on the docket at FootSteps Marketing.
Sydney Schalit, general manager turned FootSteps CEO, lights up when she talks about it.
“We were all just sitting in a sweet little circle with a gong in the middle, then we kind of got back at it,” she said. “I started about a year and a half ago, and about three months in decided to form a wellness committee. This year, we decided to do quarterly wellness seminars where we have a wellness expert come in, we provide snacks or whatever and then they host a wellness seminar for us. This one was called Mindfulness 101, and it was talking about the really important ways your brain pathways were formed in childhood and how you can adjust and improve upon those with simple mindfulness practices throughout your work day.”
As far as Schalit is concerned, happier, healthier employees make for better, more productive employees, so she’s doing everything she can to ensure her team’s wellness. The office space is simultaneously open — you won’t find any cubicle walls — and still offers privacy. There’s a canine patrol to greet visitors and keep laps warm, too.
“We try to encourage, every hour, please leave your desk. Please go for a walk. We have three dogs, take any of them!” Schalit laughed.
The added wellness seminars first took root back in October, she explained, as the upcoming holidays necessarily meant increased client demands and deadlines. But, she said, she didn’t want “wellness” to get reduced to merely a New Year’s resolution, so she approached her team about what would be most effective.
“We have a reimbursement program for when you make purchases and that sort of thing, but we really wanted to make sure we weren’t just encouraging weight loss or fitness things that aren’t critical to our success,” she continued.
Schalit and the FootSteps crew have a close-up view of wellness, which is why the next seminar will be financially focused.
“Financial stress has always been hugely important,” she said, especially in the Roaring Fork Valley. “We’re surrounded by this epic, natural beauty, and we’re supposed to have the access and the time and the wherewithal to have the gear to play in these places. This year, I wasn’t able to afford a ski pass because I had stuff come up all year. You can still get out and do it, but there are financial boundaries that keep us from being able to experience this.”
And just as FootSteps arms its clients with an educational component about digital marketing strategies, Schalit wants to make sure staff receives proper financial education. One of the agency’s own growth goals includes being able to offer employees full benefits packages, but that’s not quite a reality just yet.
“We are not totally able right now as a company to offer a 401k program, so offering the education around the importance of saving and how you can do it just with Alpine Bank and their special savings accounts, why maybe an HSA is a really good option for a healthcare benefit and things like that. It’s just… us trying to help,” she said.
Sticking to their guns
This does not feel like the typical marketing agency, an industry that often has a “burn and churn” reputation that demands long hours and intense work loads. And yet the work still gets done at FootSteps — it’s work that the team feels good about. That, too, was an intentional cultural shift. Founder Pat Curry couldn’t be happier about it.
“Pat started FootSteps, and with that, we developed this really large Ace [Hardware] retailer base — we have over 200 that we work with — and from there, we branched out to outdoor retailers, like sporting good stores all over the country,” Schalit explained about the agency’s history. “And we got in with a group that made a pretty significant political shift towards the end of the Obama administration: a significant amount of those outdoor retailers suddenly became gun retailers. Then I came in in the middle of 2017, and was just getting the lay of the land with FootSteps, and, for lack of better words, we just had a full coming to Jesus. There was the Vegas shooting and then there was the Parkland shooting, and after both of those shootings, those retailers put guns on sale. And we had the really unfortunate duty as their marketing firm to develop and deploy — literally — sales on automatic weapons.
It was heart wrenching; we couldn’t stomach it.”
Employees even started approaching Schalit about their personal struggles around the issue. She shared them, so there was an executive meeting on the matter.
“It took some convincing, mostly because of the financial impact we were anticipating, and it became one of those crosses I was willing to die on. Off the top of my head, I can count 30 nonprofits in the Valley that we could be supporting just to fix our corporate karma.”
That’s exactly what they’ve done. Curry is back in a sales role, which he loves, reconnecting with his home community and fostering a more local client base.
‘“I get goosebumps … just the very reminiscing of that transition: me as a business person perhaps too acculturated to business and seeing that that’s what should happen, and not having the courage or the vision or the command of the team to make a step like that, and then changing the culture consciously by making a choice in a CEO and saying, ‘Here, please,’” he said. “My favorite role was all the good ol’s calling me, telling me I was losing control of my company, and me informing them exactly the opposite was true: I think we finally have control of our company.”
It’s garnering attention from the community in return. On Wednesday, Jan. 16, the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and Health Links presented FootSteps the first-ever Wellness Conscious Business of the Year Award.