Keeping Fit Keeps Business Healthy, Say Top Execs

Agencies Keep Meditation Rooms and In-house Gyms for Staffers Looking for More Than a Coffee Break

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you happen to visit IMC2's Dallas office, chances are good that you will find a lot of people with their eyes closed. They're not asleep, though -- not necessarily, anyway. More likely they're taking advantage of the dedicated meditation room built into the ad agency's headquarters.

The advertising and marketing industry is notorious for sucking all the energy out of its top executives, leaving their otherwise-fertile halls of creativity barren. But while the traditional coffee fix doesn't look like it's going away, an increasing number of people in the ad world are turning to exercise and other forms of fitness to keep their minds sharp and their focus in line.

For IMC2 President Doug Levy, meditation is not only a means to a fit and focused end, but also a workday necessity. "It helps me see things others can't see," Mr. Levy said. "It's so easy to let our minds take over sometimes. I didn't discover the problem until I started solving it."

Seeing results
Mr. Levy, who also plays racquetball and participates in an annual 150-mile cycling fundraiser for multiple-sclerosis research, said the meditation practice he adopted nearly three years ago -- one long session in the morning and several shorter sittings in the afternoons for a total of 30 to 45 minutes daily -- has become an integral aspect of his daily routine. He said it affords him "a greater level of awareness" in approaching new ideas and campaign strategies.

"On the days that I skip it, I feel it," he said. "If I miss a couple days, then my wife feels it."

More traditionally, IMC2 also has a gym on its premises, as well as one in its Philadelphia office, and a standing relationship with one farther north for its New York employees.

Back in Dallas, one of IMC2's conference rooms is actually called "Relax," probably because of the massage chairs situated inside it. But Creative Director Hal Riley, a 34-year-old Texas native and avid cyclist and runner, said he does his relaxing out on the trail. "In the beginning of the run, your mind is full of tasks, all the things you need to do that day," he said. "At some point, within the first few minutes, or when you begin to get tired, your mind starts to problem solve. It's absolutely therapeutic."

The benefits of exercise seem obvious enough -- increased circulation to the brain, jettisoned stress -- but in the business model, and especially in advertising, doing a few laps around the office can yield positive returns.

Pays for itself
According to a February 2008 survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit association of 285 large employers, companies with effective health and productivity programs demonstrate superior financial performance -- 20% more revenue per employee, 16% higher market value and an average 57% higher shareholder return. Companies with highly effective health and productivity programs have cost increases that are five times lower for sick leave; 4.5 times lower for long-term disability; four times lower for short-term disability and 3.5 times lower for general health coverage.

Fitness and success may not immediately be thought of as a natural tandem, and the combination isn't all that new. Google brass reportedly spend late nights in their in-house gym. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz puts rubber to asphalt every day, taking his bike out before most of us are even awake. You could even argue that the entire Apple philosophy revolves around the Tao of Steve. Mr. Jobs' mysterious foray into spirituality and Buddhist ashrams stemming from a trip to India in the '70s is famously cited as the impetus for the brand's success.

And IMC2 isn't alone in its innovative pursuit for well-being; there are plenty of offices beating back the ever-yawning, run-down atmosphere of professional existence, proving once and for all that you can have your office and work out in it, too.

Minneapolis-based Fallon boasts its own gym, complete with in-house trainer. Though the shop also has its own yoga studio, CEO Chris Foster said he rarely sees the inside; he's partial to cardio and weights. "I'm more inclined to have a great workout, and then have a salad, as opposed to having a big, greasy burger and then falling asleep at my desk for the rest of the afternoon."

If you ask Mr. Foster what drives his ever-vigilant pursuit of fitness, he'll refer you to his personal training team: his three children, ages 8, 6 and 2. "I want to be healthy enough to be able to throw a ball around on the weekends," he said.

'Nonmonetary incentive'
Fallon's gym is available to all its employees at any point in the day, something Mr. Foster describes as a "nonmonetary incentive" to bolster productivity and morale within his ranks. "If I'm not in my office, everyone knows where they can find me," he said.

Health and fitness are high priorities for the Sapient Interactive group, too, and the executives lead by example. Nearly half of senior-management-team members are avid runners or even marathoners, said representative Gail Scibelli.

Sapient CEO Alan Herrick completed a half-marathon last month. Jane Barratt, senior VP-manager of Sapient's New York office, strength trains and runs five miles five times a week. Alan Wexler, a senior VP who oversees North America for Sapient, has completed several triathlons and runs a five-minute mile.

Tomas Siedleczka, the creative director in Sapient's Miami hub, follows a robust fitness regimen consisting of a four-day strength-training cycle interspersed with near hour-long cardio sessions. Bill Goldstein, a senior account director, goes to the gym at least five nights a week and practices yoga.

Allison Bistrong, another creative director stationed in Sapient's Miami office, is an accomplished triathlete. She prides herself on a stringent regimen of 1,200-meter swims and three-mile sprints, punctuated by a self-described core strength training "boot camp," or perhaps power yoga, depending on whether it's Monday or Wednesday. In-between days are spent cycling double-digit miles. Fridays and Saturdays are a tad less structured, with swim, run and cycle combinations slapped together at whim. "My workouts keep me sane and balance out the crazy demands of my day job at an ad agency," Ms. Bistrong said. "Plus, some of my best ideas come to life on my runs over the Key Biscayne Bridge."
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