Graham Olney, Publicis Health Intern, Class of 2017

Little Fish, Big City

By Graham Olney, Account Management Intern, Digitas Health, New York

“They wouldn’t give me the time of day.”
“They’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
“I don’t want to bother them.”

Just for a moment, put aside your level, title, personal aspirations, geographic location, ethnicity, gender and anything else you think separates you and me. Read this article from the perspective of the quintessential, boiled-down version of yourself. Got it? Good.

First, who am I? My name is Graham Olney, and I’m an intern much like many of you are now (or once were), but a little different. You see, I did something this summer that felt like second nature to me. Something I thought was commonplace, but actually isn’t. It all started with the simplest inquiry in the book.

I asked.

Seems easy enough, right? I’ve always lived by the motto, “Ask and you shall receive,” or “You never know unless you ask.” There shouldn’t be a single person in the world who doesn’t feel comfortable asking a question. At the end of the day, it’s just a person; just like you. Just like me.

Flash back to June 5, when — like many others did before me and many more will do after — the 2017 class of summer interns at Publicis Health embarked on brand-new journeys marked with challenges, expectations and uncertainty.

I had awoken in a strange bed and traveled to work in a foreign way — by subway — within an unfamiliar city to a place called One Penn Plaza. Sure, I felt confident, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any butterflies. As the day progressed, interns from across the country listened to myriad presentations about the company, met managers, were debriefed by HR, and engaged in other first-day-of-internship activities that so many college students around the world were simultaneously experiencing. In addition to the usual deluge of information, we heard from one senior leader after another who welcomed us to the program, including Nick Colucci, CEO of Publicis Health.

When all of the presentations ended, we went our separate ways and onto our chances to make this summer our own unique opportunities. Isn’t that the norm for an intern? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do? I didn’t realize I was challenging that normalcy when I took a simple action. I didn’t know what would happen next when I did something seemingly insignificant.

I asked.

Upon returning to my desk, I did what I thought was natural under these circumstances. I reached out to Nick to thank him for speaking with us and ask for a moment of his time. I mean, if I had the opportunity to sit down with someone of his caliber, why wouldn’t I try? I wasn’t expecting anything in return. In fact, knowing how busy he must be, I wasn’t expecting anything at all.

“They wouldn’t give me the time of day.”

My expectations were way off. In fact, much to my surprise, Nick emailed me back 10 minutes later and said he would love to talk and asked me to work with his assistant to get on his schedule. Naturally, I did a double-take at my screen before fully comprehending what had just happened. Although I was dumbfounded at first, I quickly recovered. Wasn’t this just an affirmation of my original thought that if you ask, you shall receive?

Fast forward two weeks later when we met. His office was pristine. It was exactly how I imagined it would be: clean, well-organized, but with an overwhelming sense of urgency marked by the sheer amount of papers stacked neatly on his desk.

As I walked in to Nick’s office, I noticed, next to the window — killer view, by the way — two plush chairs fit for the finest living room. Aside from the obvious tension of being in an executive’s office, this space felt homey. As we sat in these thrones, facing each other, a thought passed through my mind, “I’m an intern and I’m meeting with the CEO of Publicis Health.”

Instead of freezing, I regained my composure and reframed it as an opportunity to speak with someone who has a wealth of knowledge, who has established himself as a proven leader amongst Publicis Groupe, and who was willing to talk to someone like me, just because I asked. What did we discuss in that intimate space? I could tell you, but what’s a story without a little mystery.

“They’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

That day, I decided to be the fish to fry. I took a chance and it paid off. When we parted ways, I left feeling truly exhausted, but also exhilarated. Exhausted because I left it all out on the proverbial field. It took all my might to keep focused within the conversation, and for those who know me, you know how laughable that is to hear. I also felt exhilarated because I soon recognized that this was special.

As I reflected on my meeting, I concluded that Nick Colucci is not a conventional CEO. He took the time to get to know me, and although he does indeed have bigger fish to fry; he decided to stay on the dock before heading out to sea. On my walk downstairs, I ruminated the experience, and as I returned to my desk, I turned the events of the day over and over in my mind to let it properly marinate.

“I don’t want to bother them.”

A common misconception from our generation is that if you were to ask a more experienced person for advice or guidance, they’d get annoyed, when in reality, they are more than willing to help. When you reach out to someone of higher authority to seek knowledge, you’ve shown initiative, and that’s the type of tenacity you need to find success.

Amazingly, the story continues, as I was approached by my two favorite HR reps, Laurie Mellon and Lori DePace, with another opportunity: the chance to shadow Matt McNally, Global Chief Media Officer of Publicis Health and President of Digitas Health. What had my summer become? This was no accident. These actions were precise and with the help of Laurie, Lori and my manager, Ryan Sheridan, a simple act of asking created a world of possibility.

During that job shadowing later in the week, I was a fly on the wall at the 2017 Publicis Health Executive Committee Meeting, witnessed Matt McNally rally the troops at a cross-agency meeting at Zenith and, once again, had the chance to pick the brain of another industry leader.

If you want to make something happen, don’t sit around and wait. Seize it. Never let your dreams waiver. Once you’re willing to escape the confines of your cubicle and ask someone what’s on his or her mind, you’re onto something special. Burst through walls and change the meaning of “intern.” Take a chance. What do you have to lose?

Graham Olney is a 2017 Account Management Intern at Digitas Health in New York, a Publicis Health agency. He is studying Advertising with a minor in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida (Class of 2019). Aside from work, Graham is a sports fanatic, style enthusiast and an avid music listener ranging from Mozart to Migos. A die-hard Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, he will happily debate both team’s playoff outcomes this year (two incoming championships). Connect with him on LinkedIn.