When our 25-year celebration was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and then inevitably delayed to 2022, I tried to see the silver lining. At least this way, I thought, we would have plenty of time to plan the sort of retreat I had always envisioned for a company I built from the back of my home into five offices and a fast-growing virtual community. I wanted a gathering that both celebrated our work and allowed a respite from it. A few days to relax with old friends and meet new colleagues while we recognized all the ways we’ve leaned in. Summertime on the Cape. It would be perfect.
So imagine my surprise in mid-June, just six weeks ahead of our planned retreat, when I visited the venue we had booked only to find it far below my expectations. It was, simply, wholly inadequate for what I wanted for my team. It was a fight-or-flight moment — find a way to make this work, or reschedule our 25-year anniversary, for the third time, to 2023. In our line of work, we’re no stranger to unexpected curveballs. I jumped in with both feet.
As we celebrated in Boston two weeks ago, a fitting tribute to our history, my brother Mark confessed to me that he had underestimated my abilities as an event planner. Don’t tell him I said so, but he is often right, and though he never questions my vision, in this case some doubt was in order. No one would ever have thought that this event that had been months, even years, in the making could be recreated in Beantown in just six weeks. But with the support of a dynamic duo from EMRG Events, we pulled out all the stops for a truly memorable event. PAN was everywhere — in the venue décor, at our hotels, in our swag bags, and of course with the employees gathered together from our US offices, UK team and virtual community.
Our agency has always been about our people — we put them first and they make the business what it is — and this event was a celebration of both our group and our individuality. We heard from members of the PANid team about what it means to belong in our organization and how PAN allows them to bring their whole selves to work each day. During a panel of our leadership team, we got to hear stories about how our senior leaders carved their career paths and what brought them to (and has kept them at) PAN. They shared inspiring words of advice for team members at all levels of the organization. I was so proud when I asked our working parents to please stand — a simple way to recognize not just a balance of work and life but a culture that prioritizes people and families. I was especially touched to read a post by one of those leaders, Megan Kessler, about how much more the moment meant to her.
Later, as I stood onstage to recognize Mark’s 25-year+ commitment to PAN, it was our turn to look out at our team and feel an immense pride, not just for what we’ve built but for how we have built it — with compassion, intention, and respect for one another. I both laughed and cried as Mark shared significant moments throughout that journey.
Our agency has always been about our people — we put them first and they make the business what it is — and this event was a celebration of both our group and our individuality.
At our keynote session on Thursday, Elise Mitchell spoke candidly about her life, her experience leading a business and how a lack of balance between the two almost destroyed them both. Stepping back from the agency she founded and led for nearly two decades gave her the space to reprioritize, the time to reinvest in her personal life, and the perspective to see a better way forward. Elise emphasized the importance of “leading through the turn,” a phrase that is also the title of her memoir and that speaks to the need for leaders to adopt a mindset that keeps the destination in mind without losing sight of the journey it takes to get there. Again, I looked back at our team, and I could see clearly how the message was resonating. From tears to smiles to nodding heads, there was something that resonated with each person.
I had a realization as I was listening to Elise’s story, reflecting on the moment and every obstacle that had arisen and every decision that was made for that group of people to be sitting in that room on that day in Boston. I’d been thinking about this event as a culmination of our work, seeing it as a destination to reach. But this was just another part of our shared journey, one made all the better by its unexpected turns. I wouldn’t change a thing.
It felt appropriate that we closed our time together developing our vision, mission and values for this next stage of PAN. It’s a testament to how we’re always evolving and always moving forward.
Below, we’ve collected some great moments from our time together at the PAN Retreat. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, and that you share my excitement for what’s still to come.