As I move across the short NY hallway from WCG to tWist, I can’t help but think of how, at my first agency, I decided to transition from the booming Consumer practice to a fledgling Healthcare practice, at a time when healthcare was the dregs and certainly not the growth driver it is today. It’s a story of resilience, nerve, self-preservation and determination. But most important, it’s about the importance of creating your brand and owning your career.
I was working my ‘dream job’ at my first agency. We had just completed a multi-million dollar assignment for a large telecommunications company, executing the coast to coast relay of the Olympic Torch and a series of celebratory concerts across the country featuring Frank Sinatra. I had the good fortune of managing the concerts and working with Frank – who btw, I was not allowed to photograph, talk to, touch or even look at! (When he tried to snatch me for a post-concert pic – yes he made the overture – I actually ran away!) Anyway, the concerts completed and the job was done. The Olympics were over and the wrap report had gone to the client. The agency continued on the business, but a 50 person team was reduced to 5. Some left the agency and others were reassigned.
Fortunately, I stayed. I had proven myself and was ready for a promotion and my own business to run. But accounts were staffed and new biz was slow. So when I heard that I was going to join a thriving fast food account, I was a bit cautious. I would ‘partner’ with the VP, who had already been running the business quite successfully for four years, and I would join her in one of our satellite offices a few blocks down the street.
The office staff moved my belongings the following week and I headed to my new digs. I had heard it was a more modern building, but a little ‘small.’ Though I was told I’d have my own office I never expected to find myself in a closet. Not a small office, not a cube, but a real closet converted into an office. “Small” was an exaggeration. I couldn’t unpack. I couldn’t turn my chair. I couldn’t breathe.
I knew I had no choice. I sucked it up. I went to see my ‘partner’ whose welcoming words were, “I don’t know why they put you on this account. I don’t need any help and there’s nothing for you to do.” I smiled and thanked her for her warm welcome. I went looking for the head of the practice, but he was away on business. I didn’t blow out the candles.
I persevered. Read everything I could about the fast food biz, our work and the industry. I sent her ideas, set up 1:1’s, asked to meet the client, all to no avail. I was told, “We’ll call you when we need you.”
There I sat, dizzy from cleaning fluid fumes and in a bit of a panic over my fleeting career. Then it hit me. I had no one looking out for me and I was at a critical juncture in my career. If I stayed in the closet, I would suffocate. I had to find a home, a mentor and advocate, and fast.
I had just learned that someone from the HQ office was leaving the agency. I quickly called the office manager and told her that “I had been slotted for his office and I was moving back; could she please have someone pick-up my boxes and move me back?” I moved that week. In the meantime, I had heard that the agency was building a ‘healthcare practice.’ I figured we all get sick, so there will be work for a lifetime. I put a meeting on the practice lead’s calendar and went to see him. I was shaking from nerves. Would he see through my ruse? Would he care? His reaction would seal my future.
Phil was a whirling dervish, always in motion, rotating between offices, desks, clients, work. Our meeting took place in a hallway, as he moved from one meeting to the next. I had a few seconds to unveil my strategy, no time to look back. I launched into my rehearsed lines: “I’m Nancy and I’m being transferred to healthcare; what account will I work on?” He looked at me for a very long second – was I busted? — gave me a high five, grabbed my arm, walked me to a colleagues office, told him I was joining healthcare, and then vanished. The transfer was set. I was now in healthcare.
Fast forward two months, I’m in the elevator with my former practice lead (the guy I mentioned earlier) who asked how I was doing. I said I was ‘fine, I’ve moved to healthcare;’ he congratulated me and shook my hand.
And so it goes.
When folks ask how I wound up in healthcare and I tell this story, I often hear the same thing, “you could never do that today.” I disagree. Our systems, processes and technology have advanced, but the future we create will always be in our control. How we leave our metaphoric closet and open new doors to opportunities and growth will be different for each of us. But we all have the power to change what is not working and excel at what is. Years later, when I think about the nerve it took to do this, I realize that this was my defining moment. I was creating a personal brand that over the years has become known as strong-willed, determined, and resilient.
As I take the short journey across the hallway to tWist, I can’t help but think about this new door that has opened and the challenges that lie ahead. I’ve grown to love change, so I expect this next phase will be as exhilarating as those that have passed. What door do you want to open? What’s your plan? Start with the goal and map the plays. And know that you if you don’t own your future, no one else will be compelled to help you get there. I did it my way and so can you.