March brings one of our favorite times of the year at HDMZ: our annual agency summit. While we have a permanent office in Chicago, which many of our local employees make use of regularly, we also value the flexibility that remote work gives our company. Thanks to virtual work, we have employees living all across the country, as well as internationally, who don’t often get a chance to see their colleagues in person. So, when we can all get together in one place, you can bet it’s one heck of an event.

Our annual summit is a jam-packed couple of days, specially organized to help us learn and expand our skills as professionals, while also building camaraderie and having a blast. Here, you can take a look at this year’s lineup of guest speakers, volunteer opportunities, company updates, and social events we had the chance to participate in.

Guest Speakers

Michele Mavi of the 4As kicked off the summit with a presentation about building high performance teams. She explained why psychological safety in the workplace is critical, and gave us the opportunity to talk with one another about the role of trust in our own teams. Other highlights included Patrick Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team, and the traits of team players.

Angus McCauley, from STAT News, shared insights on the current state of biopharma and life sciences journalism. A major takeaway from his talk was a better understanding of what drives readers to engage with content, and the importance of establishing expert journalists that readers can trust. He also discussed some of the content distribution models in use, and how original and exclusive content adds value.

Rachel Huff of Victoire & Co. led a conversation about building strong relationships between agencies and clients. Her presentation emphasized transparency and trust, along with other building blocks of strong partnerships. We also learned about factors, such as communication breakdowns, that can cause these relationships to deteriorate — and how to avoid that.

A perennial favorite summit event, this year’s client roundtable, featured representatives from three of HDMZ’s clients: Steph Holland (American Chemical Society), Tim Decker (Catalyst Consulting), and Justin Campbell (Galen Healthcare). This discussion gave us the chance to get to know some of our clients a little better, and to hear their perspectives on a variety of topics, including the importance of demonstrating credibility rather than just claiming it; the value of conducting retrospectives on projects and giving feedback constructively; and how an agency can be a partner rather than just a vendor.

Team up with the American Lung Association

We’re pretty close with the American Lung Association (ALA) – both literally and figuratively: Not only is the Chicago chapter our office’s next door neighbor, but also, we’ve supported (and participated in) the Fight For Air Climb since 2015. This year, representatives from the ALA told us all about the 2024 Chicago climb, to be held at Soldier Field on May 19, in which participants climb stairs to support people with lung disease. We followed up that discussion by helping to package t-shirts for an upcoming ALA event.

And, to help us appreciate our lungs a little better, Ryan LeFever, a coach at TFI Physical Therapy, led a workshop on breathing. With typical HDMZ enthusiasm for the life sciences, we welcomed the chance to learn about the physiological and chemical processes of breathing. Plus, the exercises in which we participated taught us how to use breathing to give us energy or to calm us down in dealing with the stresses of everyday life.

HDMZ presentations

Of course, we couldn’t let guest speakers have all the fun. Our very own creative director, Mike Nienow, led us in a creative exercise. He started us off by teaching us about a variety of tools and approaches for brainstorming new ideas. Then, tools in hand, we broke out into small teams to come up with some marketing concepts to help one of our partner companies with a proposal. We shared our ideas with the group to much inspiration, laughter, and even a little bit of singing.

Several members of HDMZ leadership also gave updates on Vision ‘26 (V26), our ongoing initiative to help our company grow. We got an overview of where we stand with our business goals, and the new opportunities we’re cultivating. We learned how we’ve been nailing down and refreshing our brand (check out our new case studies), as well as formalizing our internal communications and content schedule (such as this blog — hi!). Our operations team explained how new tools, such as JIRA, are helping to streamline our workflows, how we’ve expanded our digital platform capabilities, and how we’re working on a plan to support data privacy compliance. Altogether, the V26 update gave us a look at what’s been happening with our company, as a whole, over the past year, and where we’re going for the next one.

Party time!

Last, but not least, we spent a lot of time enjoying one another’s company. We know that building strong relationships with our coworkers is important to our teamwork — and we like to think that we work with a lot of pretty cool people — so we built in plenty of time to socialize.

Most notably, we held a reception at the Virgin Hotel after the first day of activities. There, we had a chance to wind down, hang out, and eat some tasty tacos. After dinner, employees had the opportunity to show off their musical talents with pop-up karaoke, another yearly summit highlight for many HDMZers. Regardless of who was singing, we all had a lot of fun cheering on our friends and colleagues.

A group of HDMZers singing karaoke at the Virgin Hotel Chicago.