How a 100 Year Old Company Attracts Talent in The Age of Entrepreneurship

Sometimes it’s important to pause and think about why we do the things that we do. It’s true for 100-year-old companies who are attracting creative talent as well as ourselves.

In order for a company to keep doing what they’re doing, and inspire others to do what they do – people need a reason behind it. It’s one of the key things entrepreneurs need to identify before starting their business, as serial Chicago entrepreneur, Katy Lynch advised.

And it’s also true for Fortune 500 brands who have been around for more than 100 years like Hallmark.

In the age of freelancing and entrepreneurship, Windy City Cosmo sat down with the creative talent development team from Hallmark to learn about how they foster creative development to keep growing this 100 plus year business.

In this article we’re going to explore:

  • Hallmark’s brand
  • The talent they want on their team
  • How a diversified creative company grows creativity and their business in the age of freelancing and digital media
  • How Hallmark is working with other brands like Starbucks through a talent swap

Hallmark’s Why:

What is your why? Your why is your culture. It’s your values. It’s who you are and it’s a blueprint for how you operate as a company.

With a staff of 800 creatives, Hallmark is one of the largest creative companies.
Hallmark’s mission is about enriching lives. Hallmark’s creatives have many roles and relationships and the context and content from those helps translate into our products.

So what are some key ingredients to a creative community?

In 2015, a team of leaders from across Hallmark’s creative community came together to define their “sense of purpose.”

“Our sense of purpose is our why. We know what we do, and how we do it, but we really wanted to get at the heart of our WHY. It’s about why we do what we do. It’s our culture. It’s our values. The statements that came together as a result are meaningful,” Kristi Heeney-Janiak, Creative Resources and Talent Development Manager shared. “But it is the actions you put in place that get people to believe in it.”

One component of the creative sense of purpose is originality. The Hallmark creative community feels that in order for their teams to grow, they need time to step away from their trade and gain new skills or perspectives. Hallmark gives creative employees five days a year to do that through its #my5days program.

The first path is self-exploration. A Hallmark creative employee can choose a new skill they want to learn or expand their creativity by gaining difference perspectives.

The second path is workshops. A Hallmark team leads workshops such as embroidery or wood sculpting, wreath decorating and cake decorating is most popular one.

In just two years of launching this initiative, Hallmark has more than 2,500 examples of #my5days experiences on Instagram.

How Greetings are Still Relevant in the Digital Age:

Another component of a great company surviving disruptive technologies is looking at what they are good at. Then, looking further to compare their talents and strengths to how trends are changing and also how they are staying the same.

Hallmark, while it has many brands, at its heart is a global greeting card company.

In their interview, the creative talent development team shared that as other areas in business fluctuate, greeting card sales remain steady even among millennials in the social media age.

In terms of card spending, millennials are the fastest growing group because when they buy cards, they spend more money on them, according to Lindsey Roy, Hallmark’s chief marketing officer, in a recent CBS News interview.

“We’ve seen that millennials are really growing into that magic life stage for card sending,” Roy said. “Maybe you’re setting up households or having kids or doing the kinds of things that really just expand your relationships.”

Hallmark’s Creative Team:

How do you get involved in the creative process? Well, it actually sounds entrepreneurial.

At Hallmark, there’s a package that each employee brings to the table. Talent all come in knowing digital and design skills. Specifically, Hallmark looks for a portfolio that demonstrates a voice or problem-solving point of view.

“We might do more specific training in lettering and manipulating font,” shared Erin Roebuck, creative talent development specialist.

Beyond software skills, Hallmark employees also are expected to evolve. There are two aspects that Hallmark focuses on to grow skillset. The first is the “what” which is the creative skill set of design knowledge. The second is the “how” which is leadership and how they think through things.

Hallmark’s creative leaders have four main traits: they take initiative, pitch and come up with new ideas, solve problems, and are able to lead and inspire people.

Attracting and Keeping Creative Talent with an Entrepreneurial Workforce:

Hallmark attracts some of the best creative in the world and has a high tenure of about 16 years.

In the age of being your own boss, Hallmark pitches a steady paycheck but one of the most valuable aspects of working for a company like Hallmark is in the collaboration.

Talent Exchange: Hallmark Swaps Talent:

Hallmark is always working with their creatives to inspire them beyond their work and to introduce them to new ideas and thinking. One way they’ve been doing this is through an annual symposium, the Creative Leadership Symposium.

And they’ve taken it a step further this year by actually exchanging creative talent with other companies, such as Starbucks. Hallmark recently hosted three Starbucks creatives, and the following week, Hallmark sent three creatives to Starbucks for a designated time.

“The outcome of the talent exchange is to immerse high potential creative talent in best practices of creative studios and provide inspiration and creative connections. We gain new ideas and thinking by bringing together two creative communities that are at the heart of their respective organizations,” shared Heeney-Janiak.

How does someone develop creative talent?

In one word – mentorship. This is something that the Future of Work expert, Cheryl Cran mentioned in a Kansas City leadership conference. “One of the opportunities for millennials is that you can research the heck out of anything,” Cran shared, “If a millennial is looking for opportunities, and doesn’t want to intern, they need to find a mentor which goes beyond their research.”
“A creative talent may start to cultivate their skills in school, but it continues to evolve when they join Hallmark,” Roebuck shared. “We are a very open and sharing community. New hires get a chance to work alongside tenured and talented individuals who have become masters of their craft. After a couple of years, many creatives say that working at Hallmark feels like getting their MFA.”

One thing that Hallmark recognizes is that they need to learn from a millennial just as much we can share.

Hallmark has moved away from a structured mentorship to a collaborative environment where people can seek out help and mentorship rather than be assigned.

Research is important and so is innate talent, but both the Future of Work consultant and Hallmark agree that mentorship and collaboration are important to growing talent and developing skills.

How do you structure creative projects at Hallmark?

One of the cool aspects of Hallmark is that it is a company made up of creatives, but ones that are both creative and business focused. At Hallmark, one of the key traits is to constantly think and develop new ideas, but they also think about how this idea can be profitable and how they would pitch it.

While Hallmark’s business partners offer key initiatives that drive ideas, they are not independent of what creatives can bring to the table.

“We moved from being a service organization to a strategic enabler, ”Heeney-Janiak shared. “This means that we’re positioned differently in the business to lead new concepts and ideas that are directly aligned with business strategies.”

Conclusion: How to Stay Competitive

The workforce is changing and jobs are not about doing what you’re told but are more focused on bringing ideas to the table and taking the initiative to develop your own talents. Larger corporations like Hallmark are still attractive to millennials because they have a built-in network and mentorship opportunities that can help a creative grow their talent.

The competitive edge seems to be:

  • Finding a community that can help grow your talents. This could the people sitting next to you at work, a Facebook group or a professional group.
  • Finding a mentor, which is someone experienced in your field who can show you what research alone can’t.
  • Investing in your skill sets and keeping up to date with software in your industry.

Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.


Chicago Ideas Week: Not All Talks Will Be Inspiring

Know where to go and when to go. As in all things, and at all conferences, you can’t go to every event and meet everyone—and more importantly, you don’t want to!

Chicago Ideas Week is a really good concept. It brings new thinking, it brings classes, it brings innovators and leaders and creates a buzz for education and taking action to create change. It empowers its audience. I am happy that we have Ideas Week.

There are some moments that you want to see.

But not everything is going to be amazing. There are fluff and filler classes, just like in college.

Chicago Ideas Week had A LOT of publicity. They had an ad in New York’s Time Square. Architects built the Air Pavilion sculpture for Pioneer Court. Martha Stewart came. Chicago skyscrapers are lit up with the inscription “Ideas Week”.

I looked at newsfeeds on Instagram and Twitter, and I thought, this is pretty cool.

New Ideas (And Old Ones):


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Behind the Scenes at Chicago Offices:

Hands on Learning:


BEHIND THE HEADLINES: ISIS, Al Qaeda and other splinter groups have increasing access to both weaponry and channels of communication, creating a global threat that is omnipresent, urgent—and often unknown. Experts and journalists will provide an on-the-ground look at the groups behind extremist acts and the threats currently facing our nation before addressing the questions most on everyone’s minds. 💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡 We’re #GraphicRecording live at @ChicagoIdeas Week. Follow @inkfactorystudio for the final #CIWvisualized 💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡💡 #ThinkLikeInk #InkFactoryStudio #YouTalkWeDrawItsAwesome #VisualLanguage #SketchNotes #Drawing #Illustration #CIW #Follow

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Tips for Planning Chicago Ideas Week:

While there were a lot of great moments, my experiences with Chicago Idea’s Week wasn’t everything I hoped it would be and more. I wasn’t impressed. I spoke with other attendees at my classes. We agreed that it is a cool concept, but as Drake says, we were doing it wrong.

Here’s some tips to make the most of Chicago Ideas Week:

  1. Plan ahead. A lot of the good sessions are booked in advance. When I went to a Thursday night session, attendees said they wanted to go to Chicago Ideas Week, but they learned about it this week, and just found open events.
  2. Know who to see. Do you see all those names? Martha StewartBarbara Starr, and Michael Strahan are only going to be present at specific talks. If you know who you want to see, make sure you are going to their talk.
  3. Go during the day. Yes, there are events, but I found that people took work off or took longer lunch breaks to attend the events during the day, rather than coming after work.
  4. Become a member now. There is a discount for becoming a member now, which gives you discounts to Chicago events throughout the year at at next year’s Chicago Ideas Week.It will be cheaper, you are helping the organization, and you will be able to experience more.

Chicago Ideas Week Recap: Unlock Your Creativity in 90 Minutes or Less

“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Eugenia Cheng Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”

Cheng spoke about mathematics and how it’s silly that we only tell people to do it because it is useful. Useful like finances and like waking up early.

She was great and probably the only reason I liked my first talk at Chicago Ideas Week.

My first Chicago Ideas Week event was “Unlock Your Creativity in 90 Minutes or Less” on Monday, October 12, 2015 at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership (610 S. Michigan Ave.).

The session promised to help attendees understand the creative process and learn secrets behind it.

It’s hard to do that. Let’s be honest. The talk felt more like writing a paper and then getting the link to the edited piece. You don’t see all of the red ink with all of the corrections. You just see the polished piece. Even though this talk aimed to show us the red ink, I still didn’t see the corrections. I didn’t understand how we make great music or great poems.

Comic and Radio Host, Brian Babylon led the discussion as each of the six creative professionals took the stage in different segments of the evening. Babylon spoke for all of us in the audience. He was a nice, comic relief and added liveliness.

Six Creatives:

  • Eugenia Cheng, Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan, Producer & Songwriter
  • Tal Peleg, Visual Artist
  • Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor
  • Christopher Marcinkoski, CIW Artist-in-Residence, Director, PORT Urbanism
  • Andrew Moddrell, CIW Artist-in-Residence,  Director, PORT Urbanism

Visual Artist Uses Eyelid as a Canvas:

When I walked in, Babylon was interviewing Tal Peleg, a Visual Artist from Israel who uses her eyelid as a canvas. She draws ornate images on her eyelid.

“I paint on my own eye,” Peleg tells Babylon.

I am thinking, how can she really see if her eye is closed when she is painting? How does she do it.

Babylon heard me and asked Peleg, “When you do this, are you super still or can you go and eat a sandwich and come back?”

We started laughing.

She tells Babylon that she only takes short breaks. When she’s done, she photographs her work, but doesn’t go out wearing her art.

“It’s not something to walk around in because it looks more like a black eye.”

Though, she said it will make people curious, “It’s a good way to get people to come closer to you.”

During the session, as other speakers came up, Peleg worked on a model to paint the Chicago skyscraper.

She informs, “You can’t make a mistake.”

“It’s like diffusing a bomb,” Babylon clarifies.

Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott Chicago Skyline Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott Eye Art at Chicago Ideas Week 2015 Photo: Amanda Elliott

Three Parts to a Good Story:

Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor, took the stage and he recited a poem. The one part of the poem I caught was, “Watch me take my lemons and make the best god damn lemonade.”

After his poem, he told us that the secret to telling a good story is three parts—geography, history, and economy.

And just like that, he left the stage.

He Produced for Common:

Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan was up next.

The audience was really excited for him to speak.

“You produced for Common “Can I Borrow a Dollar?” Those that made Common on the Mount Rushmore of hip hop,” Babylon welcomed him.

We listened to a few songs as Khan tried to explain his creative process.

I learned two things.

The first is that things take time.

How long do you have to listen to it (the song)?,” asked Babylon.

“It’s not fast food. It’s slow cooking. I listen for days, if not weeks. I don’t want it to be contrived. I want to feel it.”

The second thing I learned is that Khan likes to listen to music really loud. He kept on insisting, “louder”. I loved him for that.

But, I still don’t understand how he produces.

Architects Talk Goose Island:

The architects were my favorite part of the night. They came to the stage.

“This is the grad school talk. We’re sorry. It’s just going to happen,” they said after following Khan’s music.

Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell are the creatives behind the sculpture at Pioneer Court.

They informed that the sculpture uses a spectacle to create conversation.

To begin the talk, they pulled up a picture of legos.

They asked the audience to raise their hands if they are architects.

“Be nice to these people. They don’t have many friends. They work really hard,” they shared.

“Less than 5 percent of all building around the world are designed by architects,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell shared.

They showed us project ideas that they had such as dramatizing and amplifying the given. Things that blow your mind like a heated pool surrounded by an ice skating rink in Helsinki Harbor.

They showed us a park in Denver that created a half mile loop so that people would be more active in between the play areas.

Then, they brought ideas to Chicago. They showed us Goose Island. Currently, they informed us that there is an either or conversation happening around Goose Island.

“Keep it a planned manufacturing district or focus on opening up the island to market rate development,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell informed.

Math is More Creative Than You Think:

The liveliest speaker of the evening was actually talking about math.

Yes, we were getting excited about math.

Eugenia Cheng took the stage in a bright red dress and opened with how math is like cooking.

She told me things I would never know about math.

  • Math is the logical study of how logical things work.
  • Nothing is logical.
  • You have to ignore the details.

This was so exciting for me. I compared math to coding, where if you make one mistake it can ruin everything. I thought it was all about the details.

“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Cheng asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”

She illustrated the creative aspects of math in two ways.

She played us Bach and said that it was a very complicated piece because it uses four lines of music at the same time. In order to understand it, she needed to draw it out using math.

She then compared math to cooking.

If you put sugar and egg yolk together and then milk, you get custard.  If you put milk and sugar together first and then add egg yolk, you don’t get custard. She frowned.

The same is true for formulas.