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Leadership in Benefits Series: Featuring Brooke Struminger and IPG

A Sit-Down with Brooke, Veteran Benefits Pro Bringing Empathy to a Turbulent Industry

Brooke never expected a long career in benefits. But after decades in the field, her empathy, integrity, and ability to embrace uncertainty have allowed her to thrive.

In a wide-ranging interview, Brooke provides an inside look at the evolving role of benefits at one of the world’s largest advertising holding companies. Read on for an insightful perspective on optimizing benefits strategies amidst competing priorities of cost, talent, and rapidly shifting employee expectations.

From Accidental Tourist to Globetrotting Benefits Guru

Brooke’s journey into benefits was unplanned. She started in HR administration but quickly felt unchallenged. When a benefits assistant role opened up, she took a chance despite feeling unqualified. Soon she was thrust into management when her boss departed.

Stints at a Global NY law firm and a fortune 100 company in Florida continued to hone Brooke’s skills. She learned on the fly, tackling everything from pensions to open enrollment. Key lessons included:

  • Flexibility - Being comfortable with uncertainty and constant change
  • Cross-training - Empowering all team members to contribute meaningfully
  • Situational Focus - Managing priorities, not just individuals

Ultimately, a former colleague brought Brooke to IPG to leverage her pensions expertise. She continues to learn daily while bringing a seasoned perspective to this “constantly changing” field.

Mapping the Route to Benefits Success

Given her experience, Brooke has clear ideas about building high-functioning benefits teams:

  • Divide and conquer - Cover more ground efficiently by allocating strengths, but maintain flexibility. At IPG, Brooke handles both defined contribution and defined benefit plans, while Robin focuses on health and welfare.
  • Process matters - Documentation and consistency create order amidst the chaos. Brooke sees the process as key to ensure successful outcomes. 
  • Situational alignment - Hire for overall priorities and strategy. 

Creating order from chaos remains an ongoing challenge, especially when balancing individual requests against company priorities and resources. But keeping the end goal in sight is crucial.

Charting the Course at IPG

So how do benefits contribute to the employee experience at a pioneering ad agency? Brooke characterizes the IPG benefits strategy as “above average and competitive.” They aim for steady enhancements, not sweeping change.

  • Staying the course - With benefits already middling and costs pinching, there’s sometimes a reluctance to make major improvements or reductions when employees are satisfied with the current offerings.
  • Targeted touch-ups - However, Brooke and the team push to make incremental upgrades like adding long-term care insurance in response to employee need and state mandates. 
  • Creative perks - “Family building” fertility benefits provide a strategic edge in winning over millennial creatives.

In Brooke’s view, benefits take a backseat to compensation in driving recruitment and retention at IPG. But they still provide useful tools for positioning IPG in a notoriously volatile industry.

Plotting Benefits Strategy in a Sea of Change

Evolving employee expectations pose an endless challenge for benefits. Younger workers may have different needs than more seasoned employees, and staff diversity demands greater flexibility in offerings. How does IPG’s benefits team respond?

  • Customized compasses - Groups request tailored benefits guides focused on their unique needs. Younger staff want help achieving financial wellness.
  • Navigating the North - Various employee groups will drive conversations around specific needs, creating a need to strategically create a road map for benefits planning. 
  • Recruiting crewmates - Benefits can attract talent by filling compensation gaps, but only if creatively sequenced into overall rewards strategy and culture.

As a benefits leader, Brooke embraces the choppy waters, working to expand coverage while carefully weighing costs.

Maintaining Balance on the Benefits High Beam

Controlling benefits spend is certainly part of the job, but how does Brooke truly balance quality and affordable options simultaneously?

  • Letting philosophy rule – IPG relies on traditional perspectives of employer vs. employee responsibility.
  • Following the stars - Improvements require extensive stakeholder approval, given their far-reaching cost implications across IPG’s agencies.
  • Trimming sails - If resources get tight, IPG looks to trim ancillary employer-paid offerings before scaling back core benefits.

Brooke acknowledges pushing back on the ingrained assumptions driving these tradeoffs. But she’s learned to work within the  constraints of this current economic environment.

Full Steam Ahead with Corestream

Corestream helps consolidate IPG’s complex benefits ecosystem under one tent. The platform’s value is primarily geared towards simplifying administration and making offerings far more accessible for benefit eligible employees.

  • Anchoring programs - Corestream provides a reliable benefits portal that works well when integrated into existing infrastructure.
  • Centralizing fragmented systems - IPG’s decentralized agencies can now access benefits through targeted domain. This reduces HR workload and vendor communications.
  • By removing administrative hurdles - Corestream allows Brooke’s team to focus more on strategic benefits decisions and ministering to employee needs.

Navigating Open Enrollment's Ebb and Flow

When discussing open enrollment, Brooke notes the current focus in terms of enhancements for the IPG benefits experience. She explains that the team is looking to revamp their communications and website for a smoother, less confusing user journey. Key goals are decluttering redundant information, simplifying navigation, and generally cleaning things up.

The 2023 open enrollment period was a relatively passive one. Brooke's team provided supplementary messaging to drive employees to the IPG benefits portal as usual. And they intend to do another awareness push around long-term care enrollment. But overall, the heavy lifting for open enrollment is handled primarily by IPG's benefits vendor.

Brooke's comments portray open enrollment as a bit of an ebb and flow at IPG. Some years they focus on enhancements, like the website overhaul planned for 2024. Other times, like in 2023, it is more about keeping the ship steady and making small adjustments as needed. Their vendor partnership likely helps alleviate some of the burden and urgency of open enrollment for Brooke's team.

Charting a Course in Turbulent Waters

After navigating benefits challenges for decades, Brooke offers wisdom to those considering entering the field:

  • Embrace uncertainty - regulatory and organizational landscapes shift constantly.
  • Bring empathy - benefits involve helping people through some of life’s toughest situations.
  • Value relationships - collaborate across stakeholders to bring benefits strategies to life.
  • Avoid rigidity - success requires adapting approaches to evolving priorities.

Brooke's insights paint a candid picture of the modern benefits landscape. By building empathy, creativity, and resilience, teams can thrive amidst the winds of change.

The Bottomline: Anchoring Employee Wellbeing Amidst Changing Tides

Brooke offers an invaluable perspective on leading with empathy, embracing uncertainty, and charting benefits strategies that uplift employee lives. Though the waters will continue shifting, her insights provide an anchor for others navigating this turbulent industry. Core priorities like care, communication, and creativity will ensure benefits teams stay the course through future storms.

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