Leo Q & A

BRG spotlight: Conscious Mind

After a turbulent year working from home, members of the Publicis Groupe BRG committed to elevating employees’ mental wellbeing comment on the importance of advocacy.

In 2017, Lisa Ivy, VP Global Strategy Director at Leo Burnett, observed a need for a safe space where employees could protect their greatest assets: their creative thinking. Soon after, Conscious Mind was born.

In 2020, this BRG proved a critical resource at the agency, providing levity to days spent working from home and dwelling in uncertainty.

When many were struggling from loneliness and anxiety due to the pandemic, Conscious Mind created virtual spaces where employees could open up about their struggles. Through panels and meditation sessions, Conscious Mind fostered and honest and comfortable approach to emotional well-being. During Mental Health Awareness month this year, they continued this impactful work.

We spoke to Conscious Mind members: Lisa Ivy, VP Global Strategy Director at Leo Burnett; Ana Matta, VP Strategy Director at Leo Burnett; Kelsey Eliason, Senior Copywriter at Arc Worldwide; Matt Adams, Assistant Account Executive at Leo Burnett; and Elizabeth Buoscio, Client Technology & Security Solutions Manager at Leo Burnett, who reflected on their programming for Mental Health Awareness Month:

1. Conscious Mind was created in 2017. What is the origin story behind Conscious Mind? How did it expand into a BRG and how has it grown since then?

Lisa: I recognized a need for Conscious Mind in 2017 because, as far as I could see, our agency had nothing in place to protect or nourish our greatest assets: our creativity and our minds.

Around this time, I had a break down moment while working at Leo Burnett: I thought I had ADHD but then I was diagnosed with anxiety. I would have unfinished tasks going into the weekend and then I would feel stressed about getting it done and then I would take off work on Monday because I wasn’t able to do that task. I just felt paralyzed by my anxiety.

Throughout this stressful period, I realized I wasn’t alone in this feeling, but I also knew that there was nothing around the agency to help me through that –to validate my feelings or catch me before I fell. In that moment, I knew I needed to talk to other like-minded people about this.

So, I started connecting with Kelly Alesso, Ana Matta and Melissa Healy. We came together and felt like, ‘hey, there’s nothing here, so we should create something.’ I appreciate them for just jumping in without even knowing what this thing would be and helping nourish it. So, it really started from the realization that we weren’t doing anything to protect or take care of Burnetters’ creativity.

And then we were able to expand into a BRG in late 2020. We became a household name in Leo Burnett Group and then realized that nothing like this existed in Publicis network, at least in the U.S.—crazy right?

We wanted to grow our reach and, especially with COVID, it really hit home that mental health has become more prevalent in all our lives. It became even more necessary to expand our resources.

Ana: And when we were in the office at 35 W. Wacker, information about a lot of our events was traveling through word-of-mouth to other agencies in the building. So, suddenly, we were getting participants from Starcom or Digitas and they were asking us if they could join. When all our programming went virtual, we knew there was still interest from other agencies to participate.

2. This month is Mental Health Awareness month. What has Conscious Mind been doing to advocate for mental health during May?

Ana: May is a super exciting month for us. We always have meditation at 10:30 am CST on Tuesday and Thursday, but during May, Kelly Alesso—a co-founder and active board member—offered to do an extra meditation each Monday.

We also hosted an Ask Me Anything session with the AFSP, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We did and event with AFSP in April called ‘Talk Saves Live’ and the response and interest was overwhelming. It was the first time we talked about suicide and given what is happening in the world right now, we thought it was important to address it and we’re so glad we did. That led us to host another event in May with AFSP.

We also brought in a health coach to discuss the importance of nutrition for mental health. We talk a lot about how meditation, yoga movement and seeking outside help can alleviate stress; but nutrition also plays a role.

We also hosted our first mental health panel of 2021 that centered around the importance of asking for help. Finally, we have a monthly session called Leaders Being Human. For May, we did a special edition where we brought CEO Andrew Swinand back and he hosted a fireside chat with Carlene Everson from Facebook to discuss the power of writing your own vision statement.

3. Work from home has been hard for many people, making an open dialogue about mental health even more important. What has Conscious Mind done and what do they plan to do to alleviate the stress, anxiety and loneliness that has come during the pandemic?

Kelsey: It was so critical for us to support our colleagues during the pandemic—particularly during those first few weeks. We had live meditation sessions at the Chicago office for a couple of years and then suddenly, we get a message on a Friday that says we’re all going to be working from home indefinitely. And we were supposed to have live meditation sessions the next week.

So, our team got together and quickly pivoted all our in-person events and programming to be virtual. Within that first week in March 2020, we were up and running on Teams and we made a conscious decision to make our Teams channel open to the entire Groupe before we were officially a BRG. We decided that BRG or not, everybody needed to have access to the resources and the programming that we’re providing as so many people were feeling isolated.

The move to work-from-home was a quick and difficult change, especially for those living alone, and there was—and there continues to be—a lot of loss and grieving that people had to go through. We wanted to create a space for the community to start to evolve and gather, and we were super grateful to be able to continue doing our 30-minute guided meditation sessions—and we expanded the meditations to two times a week.

Luckily, we’ve been able to continue our partnership with an external meditation guide who owns a local, women-owned yoga studio, which was a really big external benefit. Since the pandemic, we’ve hosted two virtual panels on topics related to the pandemic. We also started doing these “Ask Me Anything” panels (AMAs) so we create a space where people can open a dialogue about mental health.

4. How has Conscious Mind worked to remove the stigma around discussing mental health? How have Burnetters and other Publicis Groupe employees been encouraged to speak about it more openly?

Matt: The way that Conscious Mind has worked to remove stigma, in my opinion, is by providing a space for people to be vulnerable. For example, the AMAs are a great space for people to share their stories and be themselves. I had the pleasure of being a part of the ‘living alone’ panel that gave everyone involved the opportunity to speak our truths about our current situation.

As a younger employee, living in this space by myself, being away from family and dealing with the impact of George Floyd, it was important for me to have an outlet to discuss those stressors. Conscious Mind is giving people a space to remove the stigma, be themselves and show up.

Another thing we’re doing to open the dialogue is the podcast we’re launching this month called Unmute. It speaks to removing the stigma, gives people the space to speak up about the things that are affecting them and discusses how individuals deal with mental health and their jobs.

At the end of the day, we work in a creative space and so much of what we do relies upon us being free from mental health issues, right? Our goal is to be able to go about our work without anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve been going through that during the past year, especially, and Conscious Mind has been a place where I haven’t felt alone. So, it’s constantly a space that’s providing support for you to be open and talk about your mental health.

Lastly, our Instagram is a resource where Teresa and Alyssa have been curating content featuring ways to take space for themselves at home, interact with their manager and have honest conversations about current events, etc. All these initiatives help us remove stigma around mental health.

5. What are some highlights from Conscious Mind over the past couple of years? What events and initiatives were most successful?

Ana: I have so many success stories about our events–from having meditations and ongoing yoga to Leaders Being Human. We used to get consistent feedback that leaders need to be on board with mental health initiatives, so we developed these Leaders Being Human sessions and I’ve cried in some of them because of how real and how raw and open our leaders have been.

One of my personal highlights was during our first mental health panel (back when we were in the office), someone stood up at the end and said, ‘Hey, I don’t have a question. I just want to say I suffer from anxiety and depression and it feels great to say it out loud. Thank you for this.’ I had tears in my eyes and just thought, “What we’re doing is working and it’s helping people.”

After some of the panels, people have reached out about how they felt comfortable going to therapy or asking for help because of these discussions. And probably our biggest highlight now is the fact that we are no longer just a Leo Burnett ERG, but a Publicis BRG, and we’re reaching more people.

Overall, we’re all so passionate about this [programming] and we all put the time and love in that this requires. I can personally say that I love the people that I work on Conscious Mind with and being around them is my daily highlight.

6. How will the group provide support as employees begin to think about returning to the office? And in what ways do you think will they need support?

Elizabeth: We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. As we think about going back to the office, we want to think about the positive lessons that have come out of working from home during the pandemic. I think one good thing is that we can reach more employees now, because we’re all online and we all know how to connect remotely.

So, we’ll keep doing the meditations and yoga online and explore a hybrid approach as we return to the office. We’ll have the opportunity to have our content go across all the agencies from coast to coast that benefit from the programming.

If Lauren starts doing meditation in person, maybe we can keep that online as well and allow the people who choose not to come back to the office, or employees in California, to still participate. COVID allowed us to expand the programming and return to the office a tighter knit group.

In terms of what people might need for support, we’ll always be listening for ideas from the community. We’re always open to people asking, ‘have you guys thought of doing this?’ and we might reply ‘no, what a great idea!’

7. What does conscious mind have prepared for the rest of the year?

Lisa: Our core mission for this year is to become the go-to community for mental wellness in the Groupe. Through that, we want to make sure that we become a known resource to the point where people from Zenith or people from Saatchi hear about us as a household name. We’re really cultivating our different chapters from the east to the west, so you’re going to start seeing programming that’s coming from different people, different agencies and different sides of the country to bring us different perspectives.

We’re also really trying to hunker down in our community and approach to content. We want to make sure we were building up a community page on Marcel that is the go-to place for you to get everything you need.

Last but not least, we’re coming up with a new brand identity and I think that’s going to be such an exciting visual and physical manifestation of our evolution and our growth over the last four years.

I’m excited to see how our reach expands the community, but also how our programming is going to touch more people and more lives. I’m so glad we created this platform because we really, really needed it. I’m so grateful for everybody that has put in a hand and end given their energy and time to it time and time again.

Kelsey: We’re very meta about what we do [as pillars of the BRG], and we need mindfulness just as much as anyone else. One of our big mantras is “we do what we can with what we have” as a good stress relief reminder.

And then at the beginning of every meeting, we do a breath count and have a little moment of mindfulness before getting into it. You might not feel like you need it, but then you do it and it is the most mindful and intentional part of your day. We really try to live and breathe what we’re sharing with everyone else.