Meet Abigail Prescott, the Polsky Center’s New Executive Director of Marketing and Communications
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is pleased to announce that Abigail Prescott has joined the executive leadership team as executive director of marketing and communications. She will lead the Polsky Center’s internal and external strategies to advance awareness of the broad suite of entrepreneurship programs available to students, alumni, faculty, and research partners, as well as the University of Chicago’s technology transfer efforts.
Abigail comes to the Polsky Center after nine years at Urban Gateways, a Chicago nonprofit that engages young people in arts experiences to inspire creativity and effect social change. As chief communications officer there, she focused on brand and identity development as well as creative storytelling and communication strategies to engage a variety of audiences. She previously served in marketing and development roles at Cannon Design, Old Town School of Folk Music, and Green City Market.
“I’m excited to join a robust team dedicated to cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset and advancing the commercialization of innovations and new ideas,” Abigail said. “My previous professional experiences have prepared me in creating, leading, and managing sustainable marketing and communication strategies. I hope to bring a creative storytelling edge to the ideas coming through the Polsky Center, bolster its identity, and help demonstrate impact to its supporters and constituents.”
Abigail, who goes by Abby, received a master’s of arts management degree from Columbia College Chicago and a B.F.A. in photography and studio art from Illinois Wesleyan University. She lives in a century-old home in Oak Park with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 2. During off-work hours Abby is a vinyasa yoga instructor, a budding gardener, a maker of elaborate birthday cakes, and a self-described “creative soul” who infuses artistic practices where she can, whether it’s visual arts, music, creative movement, or simply curious thinking.
Here is more about Abby in her own words.
How has your background prepared you for this role?
Stories!! Stories breathe life into abstract thoughts and ideas. They help create powerful connections. The last decade of my career has been focused on facilitating creative communications and finding new ways to tell the story of impactful programs. During my years as chief communications officer for Urban Gateways, I led branding and identity strategies after two acquisitions and created a cadence of storytelling opportunities for the organizations’ various audiences (from teens to philanthropic Board Members). My time there definitely prepared me for this role at the Polsky Center to engage audiences, tell impactful stories, and create powerful connections.
The complexity of the Polsky Center makes it an exciting marketing challenge. I’m learning there is so much going on, so many incredible stories, and a varied audience that wants to engage in entrepreneurial work. I look forward to leveraging my experiences leading complicated brands, from defining visual elements and themes to help audiences understand and follow along to creating really robust content that allows audiences to connect with the innovative ideas and research flowing through the Polsky Center.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned during your career?
I can’t choose just one, but here are a few that have resonated over the years and that I try and hold myself to today:
Relationships are key: I’m a “people collector.” I like to surround myself with people who I know share my values, are dedicated and passionate about their craft, and are willing to take risks with me. From my close friends to my professional network, I think authentic and genuine relationships are among the most important things in life.
It’s ok to say “No”: We all have a limited capacity. It’s just the way time, space, and physics work and you can’t argue with science! I often find it hard to say no; I like to say yes and opt into things — but if I’m not able to actually commit and do things well, then “yes” was the wrong choice. I’m a firm believer in, “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it”. I’d much rather make sure something is done well than settle for mediocrity – and sometimes this means saying no. But I have to practice this daily, and it’s hard!
Always be learning, stay curious, and change your perspective! – If you think you can’t learn any more, you’re dead in the water. I think the most important growth comes from staying curious – asking questions, noodling ideas, rolling things around for a bit. And knowing that sometimes you need to get out of your own way. If things are becoming stagnant or feeling stale, change your perspective (literally!) – you might just need to stand on your head to see things differently. *see reference to teaching yoga above!
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I have two accomplishments that I’m very proud of, both as part of Urban Gateways. I can’t take credit individually, though, as I led strategy and project management for the projects while the execution and implementation lived with very talented consultants, staff, and team members:
In 2017 I led the visual rebranding and identity for Urban Gateways after its recent acquisition of Street-Level Youth Media. Urban Gateways had a 50+ year history and Street-Level Youth Media had intense brand recognition among youth participants. This was also on the heels of another acquisition four years earlier of Art Resources in Teaching. The branding consultant we worked with did an incredible job with the discovery phase of the project – focus groups, individual interviews, historical reviews – in order to really understand the multi-faceted organization that Urban Gateways had become. It resulted in a very multi-dimensional visual brand with a multitude of building blocks — a huge pattern, a 10-color palette, customized fonts — and a wide-open door to how to use all those building blocks. Working with the brand after its release in 2018 was just a joy – there was so much to explore, to customize, to play with. It was truly a lot of fun to watch our team evolve the visual brand from something that felt very primary and juvenile to a more mature, adolescent brand, and see it continue to grow.
I’m also very proud of my project management of the Teen Arts Pass mobile app for Urban Gateways in 2019. The goal was to expand equity and access to teen users and to successfully bridge multiple CRMs, technology platforms, and systems for the program. Similar to the rebrand, this was a multi-faceted discovery process that engaged our end user in feedback loops throughout the development of the app: focus groups, interviews, and letting our teens really dictate what they needed and what they wanted to see in the end product. The result is a beautifully designed mobile app developed for both iOS and Android platforms that seamlessly connects multiple data systems. This project was really interesting to lead as I knew nothing about app development, though user experience and UX/UI were interests of mine. I learned a lot along the way and it was really amazing watching our teen’s ideas come to fruition in a really incredible piece of technology.
What is your favorite innovation?
The Post-It Note! Gotta love those reuseable, restickable, residue-free little squares of productivity! The story behind its creation is also one of my favorites: the Post-It Note was nearly a failure and only really the result of a few actual failures in product prototyping. And it really only made its way to market after another initial failure in consumer marketing. So, be like the Post-It note: let mistakes happen, persevere, be less sticky…and stay organized!
What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Sleeping in and having my kids bring me breakfast in bed. HA! That’s actually never happened. I’m the first one awake in my house and an early riser. Alas. But seriously, after copious amounts of coffee and a big breakfast, I love spending Sundays outside with my family. Whether it’s digging in the dirt, planting in the garden and catching up on yard work, taking a hike with my little monsters and watching them discover something incredible out in nature, or making snow angels in the yard – spending the day outside with the ones I love is one of the best Sundays.