Why ID Media Fights Cancer Through Coffee

Interpublic Agency Fuels Awareness With an On-site Coffee Bar That Keeps Giving Back

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Support is just as crucial as treatment in the cancer healing process, as ID Media VP Lorelei Southard learned. She took that insight -- and experience -- back to her employer and a full-fledged company mission -- fueled by coffee -- was born. She recounts that story.

Cancer can be a frightening and lonely battle for patients and loved ones alike, but it doesn't have to be.

I discovered this firsthand when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2002. Shaken by this new life stage, I didn't know whom to turn to, much less what to say.

Neither did my family and colleagues. This wasn't because they didn't care or were in denial. At the very bottom of it, none of us really knew how to cope, nor did we realize there were resources that could show us how.

Turns out there were, and oddly enough, I found it by joining a community of people who were just like me.

It all started when my oncologist introduced me to a local, support-based charity called Gilda's Club New York City. One day after work, I took the train down to 195 W. Houston St., and opened the red clubhouse doors to find a group of , yes, strangers, but also friends.

As part of ID Media's annual cancer awareness activities, staffers—from CFO Thor Peterson to intern Justin Barton—all dress in pink for one day.
As part of ID Media's annual cancer awareness activities, staffers—from CFO Thor Peterson to intern Justin Barton—all dress in pink for one day.

There was Richard, for instance, who entertained us with his newly acquired painting abilities after receiving a bone marrow transplant. (Was that a gift from his donor?) And Janice shared with us her dream of visiting Italy as she fought the final stages of ovarian cancer. (She fulfilled her wish.) Jeff , whom I used to grab coffee with, mentioned me in his will. (I was deeply touched.)

Indeed, our time together was short, but it also opened my eyes to the larger circle of cancer sufferers, namely that it wasn't just about the patient. Family members, friends and children, even, would join us, and their courage and openness to understanding the healing and support process strengthened our resolve as a group. Our circle of hope was fragile, but in our time together, I can honestly say, we all learned a lot.

But what if people didn't know such remedies existed?

Research shows that a holistic treatment approach -- encompassing both modern science as well as robust social and emotional support -- increases the rate of cancer survival. For a variety of reasons, including fear, anger, confusion and awkwardness experienced by all parties affected, this nurturing outflow isn't necessarily there.

I was comfortable sharing my experience with my employer, ID Media, an Interpublic Group agency that had just been launched in 2002. That October, the CEO, Lynn Fantom, had already decided to make a bigger deal of a charitable walk two employees were participating in and, as a result, hosted the company's first Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Lynn's mother had died of colon cancer, so she had firsthand knowledge that cancer affects one in three families during their lifetime. She decided to activate our caring into a broader community mission that encompassed fundraising, volunteerism and education.

One of the most visible examples of this mission is our 100% charity-benefitting coffee bar.

On a daily basis, employees, colleagues from other IPG companies, friends and visitors pay just $1 to get a coffee, latte, cappuccino or other beverage freshly brewed by our own barista. Our agency financially supports the whole operation -- supplies, the coffee bar, cafe and all -- and donates 100% of proceeds to cancer-related charities.

But even more important than that is the fact that we've created a viral task force, where each time employees purchase a drink, they're reminded of -- and help spread the word about -- the importance of cancer support.

This culture of giving, over time, has multiplied.

Last month alone, our agency launched a full round-up of cancer fundraising activities, including Monday bake sales, raffles and an auction. And, as is customarily the case, we set aside one day each year (this year, it was Oct. 19) where employees arrive dressed fashionably in pink. (Our CFO, Thor Peterson, donned a pink bowtie to match intern Justin Barton.) On Nov. 17, Gilda's Club New York City will honor ID Media with the Bill Modell Heart of Gold Award at the Pierre hotel.

Looking back, I realize that I hadn't necessarily envisioned that it would evolve this way, nor do I take any credit for introducing ID Media to a charity such as Gilda's. What's most important is this: As Gilda Radner, the "Saturday Night Live" comedian who lost her own battle to ovarian cancer, said, "No one should have to face cancer alone."

I didn't. And now I'm helping to pay it forward. Come over for coffee anytime.

Lorelei Southard is VP-associate radio and broadcast director at ID Media, New York, an Interpublic Group direct and digital media agency.
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