The Allotrope Interview with Maggie Paoli

I’m really excited to kick off our interview series today! These profiles are meant to highlight various career journeys and give insight into the human behind the title and the things they care about. The aim is to create a more tangible and accessible space where real people are celebrated outside of a 30 under 30 list or strictly career profile.

Growing up (and then again when I switched industries), I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be, but I was so curious about what people did for a living, how they got there, and who they were outside of work. My hope is that The Allotrope can be a resource for those who are looking to explore career options and get inspired by someone’s story, hobby, or volunteer work.

For our very first interview, we’re chatting with my friend Maggie, who I’ve known since high school! She grew up in Oak Park, “did some time (not jail) in Memphis,” and now lives in the West Loop. Maggie is a fantastic example of someone who embraces her multitudes; she’s a Senior Account Manager at a digital advertising agency, a thoughtful and engaging Big Sister to her Little Sister, a hardcore ultimate frisbee player, and an old-school letter-writer. Learn about her career path, favorite drink, and more:

What are your multitudes?

Energizer Bunny, thoughtful, empathetic, outgoing, goofy, caffeinated, loyal, Marge, crazy, Boss

Tell us about your current role(s).

I am a Senior Account Manager for a digital advertising agency. I manage clients and see through the creative process. I am also a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters Chicago.

How did you get into advertising? Was your career path more traditional or roundabout?

It’s funny, I actually started my career in sports. Right after college I worked for Chicago’s professional softball team, The Bandits. It was an unpaid internship for college credit back then (I do not condone unpaid internships).

From there I was a multi-job kind of gal for a while. I worked in recruiting, I babysat, assisted at a hair salon, a game day intern… you name it and I have probably done it. It was super frustrating to have gone to college for 4 years only to struggle to find a job.

The one thing I’ll say is my game day internship with the Blackhawks really set me up for success to land the full-time paid internship. It’s all about how you play the game, right? Do the current staff like you, were you there for work or were you there to watch the game? I watched other game day interns take advantage of working for the Blackhawks, and I knew I had a shot at a full-time position if I showed off my personality and hard work. I landed the Community Relations Blackhawks internship for the 2014/15 season (they won that year!).

After that internship I intended to stay in sports and assumed my experience with the Blackhawks would help pave a pathway to my next career move. Well, that didn’t happen and I was left working multiple smaller jobs while I searched for 9 months for a full-time  job. I was fortunate enough to have a contact at an advertising agency who helped me get a foot in the door. The only caveat was that the day they hired me, they also told me I’d have to move to Memphis if I wanted the job.

So this Chicago gal moves to the South… I can tell you that was not my first choice of places to move, but I started as an assistant account executive working in experiential advertising. We put on events around the U.S. promoting our brand, really creating that 1:1 connection between the consumer and the brand. I’ve since worked my way up, promotion to promotion and eventually moved back to Chicago. I was promoted again in September and decided it was time for a change. Now, instead of working on the road, planning events and traveling all of the time, I work from my kitchen on the digital side of the business pushing out creative and keeping my clients happy!

You originally studied education, right? How did this contribute to your path?

I went to a school known for education mainly because I wanted to be a PE teacher… Hello 180! I think the reason I wanted to be a teacher is because of all the amazing teachers I had growing up. I saw how much they loved their jobs and got to coach on top of it – and that was something I wanted to do too! Well, after practicum, which is in-person training before handling a classroom on your own, I decided teaching wasn’t for me. I ended up switching my major junior year to Sports Management and Business. I knew I wanted to work in sports, I just wasn’t sure what that meant for me.

When I started working for the Blackhawks in Community Relations, I knew I was in the right place. It combined two things that I loved: sports AND giving back. I always thought it was so amazing how much the Blackhawks supported the community around them. Once I left the Blackhawks I searched for a bunch of jobs at non-profits because I thought I had found my calling… but I didn’t have any luck back then.

What advice would you give someone interested in digital advertising?

I think the best advice I can give someone is this:

1. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; you have to stand out somehow.

2. Take an internship early! They’re the best way to gain experience, especially in advertising

3. Make connections. I am sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know… and I can say a majority of the jobs I have held are because someone recommended me.

I really admire your work with Big Brother Big Sisters Chicago. How long have you been a Big Sister?

I started about a year ago and I’m really enjoying it! My Little is actually my mini me – it’s such a strange coincidence. What I find super cool is she’s not only learning from me, I’m learning from her. She’s super bright, both intellectually and in her personality. We meet twice a month (virtually in the pandemic), but we’ve been able to do a couple outdoor excursions that were awesome!

While donating money is amazing, they are always looking for Bigs to support their ever growing list of Littles. If you can spare a couple hours twice a month, you’ll make the biggest difference in a child’s life. There’s always a shortage of male bigs, meaning Littles are on a waiting list, so men, I’m talking to you!

I also just started mentoring with All Stars Project Chicago, so I’m pretty excited to be matched with a student. I think it’s so important to invest in our youth. As someone who was fortunate to have great mentors growing up, I think it’s important to be that for the next generation.

In true Allotrope form, you have a lot of hobbies. If you had to choose one, which would you focus on?

I LOVE playing ultimate frisbee – it has connected me with many people I otherwise would not have known. I started playing recreationally in high school and when I got to college, I played at a competitive level. When I decided not to play softball in college, I turned to ultimate because I got to be competitive and still be part of a team. I’ve mainly played and captained mixed teams, but I’m thinking about trying out for a women’s team this year.

Okay, tell us about more of your hobbies.

Travel and writing letters. You may think I’m old school, but I LOVE a good handwritten letter. I actually just purchased my very own wax stamp to seal my letters with. NERD ALERT!

In terms of travel, I have a few goals: visit all 50 states (I’m at 38), visit all MLB parks (I’m at 18), visit each continent (I’m at 3).

What’s the best book you read, podcast you listened to, or movie you watched this month?

My go to podcasts are Higher Learning and Hysteria. On HL, Rachel and Van talk about Black culture, politics, and sports. On Hysteria, Erin and Alyssa touch on anything you can think of – mostly progressive politics, rom coms, and topics affecting women. That podcast is a HOOT! If you haven’t heard them, I HIGHLY recommend checking them out. 

And lastly, what are some of your favorite products lately?

I will never shut up about Lime Topo Chico. That stuff slaps! It’s the best bubbly water I’ve ever had and if I’m feeling boozy, I can make it into a paloma. Another product I’d like to highlight is the Atlantis Candle from Hyde Park Candle Co. AMAZING.

Major thanks to Maggie for being so generous with her time and letting us get a peek into her varied and inspiring life!

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