It's a long way from the rolling hills of rural Boiling Springs, Pa., to a pentagon-shaped conference room overlooking Park Avenue. In the nine years it's taken Bob Allen, 30, to make the transition from his hometown to New York, his career has evolved from working in sales and marketing at Modem Media to serving as president of the interactive marketing agency that earned $36 million in revenues last year. And while he's witnessed sweeping advances in new media since its inception, the most tangible change for Allen is personal.
"People actually listen to me now," he says with a laugh.
They'll be even more attentive in the next few months as the company decides what its relationship will be with New York interactive agency Poppe Tyson, now a holding of True North Communications, which also owns Modem Media. "There's a lot to be said for a one-brand, synergistic strategy," he said of Poppe, though both companies have denied they will merge.
Allen's star has been on the rise since he spearheaded the effort to land AT&T's interactive agency of record assignment in 1995, a job Modem won over several large traditional shops. "It was David vs. the Goliaths," he recalls.
Though AT&T remains Modem's most important client by far, JC Penney, Compaq Computers and Excite are also on the roster.
The Internet was not always part of Allen's plans. He studied English at Gettysburg College, where he graduated in 1989, and spent a summer working in a distribution facility for IBM-his father's employer-shipping Prodigy. He learned enough about the product to answer a classified ad for a job at Modem Media, where his first assignments involved teaching retailers the value of computerized catalogs.
Now his days begin at 6:30 a.m. and run until 10 or 11 each night. In addition to working at Modem's headquarters in Westport, Conn., he commutes to its New York office, which opened a few weeks ago.
He sees Modem as an integral player in linking businesses with their customers online and making the medium relevant to consumers. "We have just seen the tip of the iceberg," he says. "We have a mainstreaming effect on the Internet. It's not just high-tech people using it. It's my parents who went out last week and bought their first computer."