Typically, we like to get our Women We Love interviews up on Monday. But when Ally Cooke told us she was going to need an extra day to do our interview because she was swamped at work, we didn’t hesitate to say “take it!” Ally is the Director of Marketing for Chicago Social magazine — one of the city’s best known and most high profile publications. This month alone, she’s responsible for helping CS manage involvement in more than 30 events around the city. When she finally did send us an email with photos for our post, it was 9:30 p.m. last night, and she was still at the office.
It’s this work ethic (and seemingly boundless energy), though, that’s gotten Ally where she is in such a short time. She started at CS as an intern in 2009, and since then has climbed the ranks to marketing coordinator, special projects manager, and now her current title. Here, we talk to Ally about the day-to-day behind her role, how she dealt with the added pressure of being promoted at such a young age, and the part she loves most about holding one of Chicago’s most enviable job titles.
YOU STARTED AS AN INTERN AT CS, AND NOW YOU’RE THE DIRECTOR OF MARKETING. HOW DID YOU WORK YOUR WAY UP?
I think it was a combination of really hard work and good timing. I took a chance a stuck it out as an intern during a time when the company wasn’t hiring much and eventually, after 9 months of internship status, the right position opened up for me. Throughout my time at CS, I’ve worked my way up by working long hours, being eager for any tasks (no matter how mundane) and staying positive throughout. I think so much of the position is forging strong relationships with people in this city – that’s been the most exciting part of it for me and I think it’s what definitely leads to a successful rise in any job.
IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ADVANCED FAIRLY QUICKLY. WERE THERE EVER TIMES WHEN YOU WERE OVERWHELMED BY THIS? HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE ADDED RESPONSIBILITY?
Definitely. I think the first year of my role as Marketing Director, I was extremely stressed with the additional responsibility. When everyone is looking to you on decisions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel the pressure but I think having a strong team behind me really helps ease the worries. I think learning how to delegate was probably the biggest lesson I had to learn when taking over the department. I wouldn’t be anything without my marketing team – currently, Lesley Stump, Director of Special Events and Jacqueline Hoover, Marketing Coordinator. They really help the whole department stay on track and manage all of our events, clients and vendors because it’s too much for one person.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL WORK DAY LIKE?
Typical work day start with a grande coffee (it’s a must), followed by catching up on emails from the night before. Usually I split my time between time at my desk (answering an insane amount of emails) and out on meetings – either with clients pitching events and partnerships or on walkthroughs and meetings working on executing upcoming events. It’s great to be able to spend time out of the office and interact with clients – that’s the part I typically like the most.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS FOR SOMEONE WHO WORKS IN YOUR ROLE TO HAVE? (I.E., WHAT ONES DO YOU USE EVERY DAY?)
Organization, being detail-oriented, good at working in a fast-paced industry and environment, time management, multi-tasking and being professional and personable.
IT SEEMS LIKE CS IS ALWAYS THROWING AN EVENT. HOW MANY ARE YOU USUALLY WORKING ON AT ANY GIVEN TIME?
Well this month, it’s a little extreme – we are supporting 30+ events in May alone. Typically, we average about 250+ a year but that includes events of all levels – sponsorships, supporting/covering events and planning them from the ground-up.
WORKING AT A MAGAZINE MEANS YOU USUALLY GO TO A LOT OF EVENTS AFTER WORK, TOO. HOW MANY DO YOU TYPICALLY ATTEND IN A WEEK? HOW TO YOU MAINTAIN A GOOD WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
We probably have about 1-2 per week on average so it’s definitely hard to keep the work/life balance at times and I’m still learning how to improve on that. I think in my first year as marketing director, it was really difficult and I worked so much overtime to catch up but in my second year, I’ve been able to separate my life a little better. I think making your personal life (friends, boyfriend, husband, etc) a priority over work helps you make the distinction and will make you more efficient at your job in the end. Everyone needs a break/vacation or time away to keep their sanity!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE EVENT YOU’VE PRODUCED?
I have so many! I would say that would be a tie between two annual events – Chef’s Table and our Spring Fashion event. [see above] Our Chef’s Table event is an amazing culinary event in July at the Jenn-Air World of Whirlpool penthouse rooftop space to celebrate our restaurant issue. It’s a great evening with some of the best food you’ve ever had from the best chefs in Chicago and across the country – Jacques Torres, Giuseppe Tentori, Chris Pandel, to name a few. All the ticket funds go to DIFFA Chicago which makes the event even better because it’s for a great cause.
Our Spring Fashion event happens annually in March every year to celebrate or March fashion issue, usually involving a big name fashion designer recreating their NY runway show – formerly Yigal Azrouel and Roberto Cavalli with Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s always a fabulous event to plan.
WHAT’S ONE THING PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT WORKING AT CS?
It’s definitely not glamourous! We stuff gift bags, cut place cards, design signage are constantly on our phones emailing. I love what I do and get to put together some amazing events and meet some incredible talents (musicians, chefs, personalities, some celebs) but we are in the background running the events and it’s not like the movies/TV shows!
HAVE YOU HAD ANY “PINCH-ME” MOMENTS SO FAR IN YOUR CAREER?
I’ve probably had many but I do remember when I planned this White Party at the EnV Luxury Apartments in 2011 and Dan Black and his band performed on a glass stage over the pool. I was a big fan and the whole scene was just incredible – couldn’t believe I had put the night together.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL OTHERS WHO WANT TO FOLLOW IN YOUR CAREER FOOTSTEPS?
Don’t give up and surround yourself with talented people – my marketing team teaches me something new everyday and I wouldn’t be even half as good of a manager without them.