Insights in health & wellness branding


Why We (Still) Rock

15 May 2019   |   Nicole Stachura

We’re coming up on our 11th year as AbelsonTaylor’s house band, which is as surprising as it is gratifying. People age, take on new responsibilities, move, change jobs — who knew the band would still be together all these years later?

We’ve gone by different names and had what one member called “a Spinal Tap’ian cast of rotating characters.” But we’ve always been proud emissaries of AT’s corporate philanthropy, which supports giving back in ways aligned with personal interests. In 2008, when we first came together to compete in Pharmapalooza, we called ourselves No Indication. A little later, we went by Full Submission. After an agency-wide contest, we became Hard to Swallow. The name stuck, along with our resolve to keep on rocking.

So why do we do it?

For starters, it’s fun. Lots of fun. Even though we knock ourselves out creating and rehearsing an original set for just two performances a year, we catch fire when we take the stage. People cheer, whistle and shout. Even people from other agencies – who might be high-stakes competitors in the professional sphere – become rowdy supporters when we’re all doing our best for a common cause. No matter who “wins,” we all do.

Which is the main reason we keep rocking. Because the money we help raise in those two battle-of-the-band concerts we do each year helps children. Children who need to believe in new possibilities.

In New York, the concert is Pharmapalooza, the granddaddy of healthcare advertising band competitions. Since its founding in 2007 by Cline Davis & Mann (now The CDM Group), Pharmapalooza has raised more than $900 thousand for The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM).

Recognized as one of the best healthcare centers in the country for children with complex medical conditions, CHAM cares for more than 9,000 hospitalized children a year, including 2,000 in the center’s pediatric critical care unit and NICU. CHAM also has one of the busiest pediatric ambulatory programs in the country, treating some 200 thousand children a year in its ER, outpatient and school clinics, and network of community programs. The funds we help raise support the Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program, which provides educational and therapeutic programs to help young CHAM patients better cope with their illnesses, treatments and time in the hospital.

In Chicago, the concert we compete in is Battle for Hope, a raucous home-crowd event where one of the judging criteria is how well you whip up the audience. Founded in 2013 by executives from Digitas, Accenture and Pitchfork, Battle for Hope has raised more than $300 thousand for Off The Street Club (OTSC) with more to come this week (the annual battle is Friday – see box for details).

OTSC is Chicago’s oldest club for boys and girls, giving children a safe place to play and learn since 1900. Today, the club serves more than 3,000 children in West Garfield Park, where drugs, gangs and crime have made it one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.

Offering afterschool sports and arts programs, a computer center, and tutoring and mentoring year-round, OTSC also runs New Horizons, a program designed to give kids a broader and inspiring view of their city through chaperoned trips to baseball games, museums, skating rinks and other fun destinations throughout the year.

All funds raised by Battle for Hope are used for one express purpose – to send OTSC kids to Camp Mathieu, the club’s own 30-acre summer camp in Wheaton. The camp combines classic outdoor activities – swimming, sports, camping, nature study – with a leadership program for the club’s Junior Team Leader Corps. It costs $500 to sponsor one boy or girl at camp for a week, but the experience for campers is priceless. As the OTSC website notes, “hope grows stronger in fresh air and sunshine.”

So that’s why we’re still rocking. Come out to the Cubby Bear this Friday and see what all the fuss is about. We’re keeping our setlist under wraps, but “Women Who Rock” wouldn’t be a bad way of describing what you’ll hear. Promise you’ll have fun. And do some good, too.


Hard to Swallow 2019 is:

Robert Williams, drums/vocals

Nicole Stachura, vocals

Theo Hild, guitar

Skylar Jameson, vocals

Eric Patterson, bass

Kelly Schroer, keyboard

Battle For Hope 2019

Friday, May 17

The Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville

$25 general admission, ages 21+

Doors open at 6 p.m.


An anonymous AT donor is covering the general admission cost for staff. Additional Individual donations welcomed.

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About the Author

Nicole Stachura is an associate account director at AbelsonTaylor. She has over 12 years of health and wellness advertising experience and is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Health Communication program. Nicole’s creative outlets include singing, managing AT’s award-winning cover band, and finding inspiration from the myriad podcasts she subscribes to.