Twenty years ago I joined a company that was at the epicenter of interactive marketing. It was called Modem Media and I started just before its tenth birthday (I even got a snazzy blue laptop bag for being there when it turned double digits).
I was hired as a research associate and came from a well established agency in New York called Foote, Cone, and Belding where the most exciting thing I’d do all week was estimate the amount of call volume one of AT&T’s telemarketing centers would receive after one of those One Rate commercials featuring Paul Reiser aired. Hey, I was young and needed the money.
When I arrived at Modem in March of 1997, my life got infinitely more exciting. I was involved in conducting some of the world’s first online research including online surveys, focus groups, and bulletin board sessions. I pioneered the use of cookie tracking to conduct in-market online brand advertising effectiveness studies and went from being a number cruncher to a true digital strategist. Put simply, it was an amazing time in my life.
I was a small part of the digital revolution of the nineties. While I was running cutting edge research, people next to me were changing the way media was bought, placed, and tracked online. Our developers were building websites with functionality that would fundamentally change business and service models and our account people were, well, promising our clients the world because A. That’s what account people do and B. Modem Medians had the attitude that anything was possible.
It was a bit like the wild west (and we even had bar fights). We also drank a lot of Zima – which is one of the reasons you’ll find Blaze Hazelwood, the lead character in my first novel Return to Casa Grande, enjoying the clear malt beverage regularly (he has it flown in from Japan because that’s the only place you can buy it now).
What made the place so great, though, were the people. Last week a few of us got together to help support a colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer in order to help raise money for her treatment. Two of our partners, G.M. O’Connell and Bob Allen were present and pledged to match all donations made at the event – it says something about a company when a group like that gets together to help a former colleague in a time of need. Click here to support Michelle Pfalzgraf.
It dawned on me while at the event that, while I only spent a little over three years at the agency, it had a profound impact on my 20+ year career. My subsequent jobs at MasterCard and Unilever both came from Modem connections (Chris Nardone and Amanda Kelly respectively). Additionally, all of the work that I do for my clients today is rooted in what I learned at Modem Media twenty years ago (it was there where I saw my first focus group and conducted my first usability tests – work that keeps the Carlon family fed to this day). Whenever I need any advice career wise, the Modem network is the first network I go to.
I’m at a crossroads now in my professional life. I love running my own business but do miss the camaraderie that comes with working in a larger organization. I wish there were a way to go back in time and bottle the magic that I experienced during the last three years of the 1990s working side by side with people who were literally changing the marketing world every single day. Working with people who, decades later, would get together to support a fellow Modem Median facing a tough battle. If you hear of anything that matches that type of environment, let me know – I’d love to talk.
It also occurs to me that Modem was founded in 1987 and it is now 2017. I’m a qualitative guy, but if I do the math right that’s 30 years. Reunion? Quack?