Nick Pappas ’96 and Mary Perhach ’95 have a unique devotion to each other and their media agency, so much so that one might question what came first. In fact, the founding of both pursuits are intertwined, as are the dynamics of managing a relationship and family. The seeds were planted at Scranton 20 years ago and prepared them for the complexity of a global business.
During their Scranton years, both lived in 448 Monroe. “I lived on the first floor and he was on the second,” said Perhach. “I had met him over the summer, but very briefly. I was moving in and he was taking summer classes.”
They began dating that fall and learned all about one another. Pappas was from Brooklyn, New York, and had attended a Jesuit high school. Perhach, from Kingston, was the daughter of an administrator at Scranton. She was a physics major sampling classes in nearly every discipline, from theatre to psychology, while Pappas was focused on chemistry and business.
After graduating, Pappas took a job as a media specialist. He worked in sales, planning and buying. Perhach, who ultimately chose to major in English, worked in advertising and PR/ communications. Their careers ran parallel to one another, but had not yet intersected. She was working on the creative side of the market, and he was in media.
The two, both stationed in New York, married in 2001.
She went on to lead global communications for two of the world’s largest advertising networks, and managed accounts and client relations for brands including New Balance and Dos Equis (she was part of the team that developed “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign). In January 2011, Pappas began a business, called SwellShark, in Manhattan. He and his wife both saw — and often discussed — what was missing in the industry: collaboration between their two paths: media and creative.
“There was a real problem as media agencies and creative agencies disassociated with one another,” said Perhach.
SwellShark distinguished itself from other agencies by re-associating those things. In short, SwellShark’s promise to “deliver impact that exceeds the investment” made the company different from the competition.
As Pappas set up shop, Perhach was traveling the world as global chief communications officer with Euro RSCG and, later, as chief communications officer for McCann Worldgroup. With two young daughters at home, though, life was hectic. “It was a challenge to have time for everything,” said Perhach. “It was exhausting and difficult to manage with Nick’s career, my career and our children.”
Perhach was also frustrated with an industry that no longer served clients with a holistic approach, so she decided to make a change. She joined SwellShark in February 2012, further cementing the agency’s creative expertise. The couple’s careers finally aligned and this second union seemed like the perfect fit, especially because it followed the same high-achieving mindset and collaborative approach they had as a couple.
“We’ve always personally challenged each other to do a lot, to achieve a lot,” said Pappas. “We focus on having a great, dynamic relationship and that has translated well into our business relationship. Our strengths and weaknesses are different — mostly — so we can help each other.”
After just a few years in existence, the company and its founders have enjoyed much success, most notably winning an Effie award for effectiveness in marketing communications for a campaign for Applegate Natural & Organic Meats. They collaborated with a creative agency to run local market campaigns and helped increase Applegate hot dog sales by 55 percent, even while the category as a whole was in decline.
At work, the couple considers reports and opinions from various clients and team members and, at home, they negotiate with a 9- and a 6-year-old. They give all discussions “every ounce of energy” and credit their everyday achievements, at least in part, to their Scranton education.
“Acknowledging more than one point of view is very much a Jesuit tradition,” said Perhach. “The way we deal with each other and run our business follow that tradition. We know the value of considering multiple and conflicting points of view before deciding where to go with it.”
Perhach has stayed involved with her alma mater, despite a busy schedule. In the spring of 2013 she gave a talk to an advertising class at the University about how to land your first job in the industry. Although Perhach may not have noticed it at the time, junior Olivia Barone ’14, was taking copious notes on the presentation. Barone was hired as an intern at SwellShark a year later, and she is now a full-time employee at the company.
“Nick and Mary are hardworking, intelligent individuals,” said Barone. “They both have excellent knowledge and practical experience in the advertising world and work together to make all parts of their business harmonious.”
Whether a shared education or philosophy, one thing is clear: the company and this couple have become harmoniously intertwined.