I first contacted Gene Hallacy in April of 1998. He was the media director and a VP at a large agency in Charlotte, NC: PriceMcNabb. I sent Gene a cover letter and a copy of my resume. In our modern age of text messages, email, LinkedIn instant resume uploads, and job posting sites like Talent Zoo, printing out a cover letter and then mailing it with a resume seems antediluvian.
My good friend, Chris, had already been living in Charlotte for about a year, and she had mailed me a copy of the Charlotte Business Journal’s top-ranked advertising agencies list. I was still living in Syracuse, NY at the time. Chris had worked with my ex-wife Laura, and that’s how I met her. Chris and I had become good friends in the six plus years that I had known her up to that point, and we stayed in touch after she moved to Charlotte in 1997.
Gene responded quickly to my initial inquiry. His letter said that PriceMcNabb didn’t have any open positions on the media team, however, he did say that he was very impressed with my resume, and that he would like to stay in touch with me since the agency was rapidly growing and picking up new accounts all the time.
Even though PriceMcNabb wasn’t hiring, I was able to find a position with a small media buying service, and a couple of months later, I packed up my worldly possessions and headed south. When I finally arrived in Charlotte after a 12-hour, 750 mile drive down I-81 and I-77 with my yellow Ryder rental truck, car trailer, and dark blue 1995 Chevy Lumina, Chris was overjoyed to see me. She greeted me with a bear hug and an enthusiastic, “Welcome to Charlotte!” Chris also helped me get the car off of the trailer. She cooked dinner for me that night, and let me crash at her apartment for the night since I had arrived after the business office at my apartment complex had closed for the day. “Whoa,” I thought to myself, “how can friendship be this exciting?” I’ll talk more about Chris in future columns, but I will say that we might have liked each other a little bit at the time.
Life at the small media buying service in Charlotte wasn’t that rewarding, and within a few weeks, I left that company. I decided that that I would rather spend my time looking in earnest for a much better job than to be so unhappy and unfulfilled.
Within a couple of months, I found a new job at another media buying service. This was a larger company, with a media director and a couple of buyers. While that company did offer limited creative services, it was not a full-service agency. That job lasted about a year, and since it was a small family owned business, I couldn’t seem to navigate the politics and in-fighting which took place on a daily basis.
During that time, Gene and I had continued to stay in touch, but he still didn’t have an open position for me on the media team. I was bummed out, because Gene seemed like a cool guy, and he was sincere in his correspondence with me. The idea of working at PriceMcNabb also seemed like a good career opportunity for me.
My next job after the second media buying service was working for a very small ad agency in Syracuse for about nine months, telecommuting from my apartment in Charlotte. Well, technically it was Chris’s apartment, because we had moved in together by that point in time. Wait, what?! I think I mentioned that Chris and I might have liked each other a little bit.
While I enjoyed working for the small Syracuse-based ad agency, at the time it felt like my opportunity there was somewhat limited due to the company’s size, and the paycheck wasn’t what I wanted or needed. As it turns out, I had taken a substantial pay cut to move to Charlotte, and by leaving Syracuse I was taking a step backward in my career. However, moving to Charlotte allowed me to be with Chris, so that was a big step forward in my personal life.
Something unexpected happened about eight months into that agency job: I heard from Gene again. When we talked on the phone he said that he finally had an opportunity for me, and asked if I was available. I told him that it felt like my current job was stagnating, and that I might finally be ready to go work for a large, full-service agency. Gene was happy with that news, and we set up a day and time for an interview.
Upon meeting Gene, I immediately liked him. Gene was originally from the New York City area, and I was an upstate New York guy, so we bonded over that. Plus, we were both Yankees fans. The interview with Gene went well, and he wanted me to interview with two of the owners of the company while I was there. Those interviews also went well, and before I left PriceMcNabb that day, I had a job offer. PriceMcNabb eventually became a part of Eric Mower and Associates, so it ended up being a great career move for me.
The takeaway from all of this is: business networking is extremely important to your career path. You never know who you will meet, and what role those individuals will play in your professional journey. You need to trust your instincts too, whether it’s keeping in touch with a prospective employer over a lengthy period of time (in my case, it was about two years), or whether it’s cutting your losses in a job that’s either too limiting or without potential. Listen to that little voice inside your head as you travel on your career path, and you’ll be very glad that you did.
Scott G. Howard worked in the advertising agency business as a media buyer and media director for nearly twenty-five years. He is now an author, storyteller, and freelance writer, and writes from his unique perspective on relationships and life. Scott was born in Syracuse, NY and resides in Charlotte, NC, where he has lived for almost twenty years.