Holly Pilcavage '12: Leading a Community-Focused Marketing Agency

Just four years before Holly Pilcavage ’12 took the helm as president and CEO of Coal Creative, a marketing agency in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, she was a part-time employee, doing a Google search to come up with her own job description.

“True story -- I Googled ‘What does a director of business development do?’” Pilcavage recalls with a laugh.

It was back in 2016, and she had recently returned to live in the Wyoming Valley region, where she grew up. She started out working part-time gigs at a few places, including Coal Creative -- which at that point was a network of freelancers looking to formalize and grow. They tapped Pilcavage to help, and that’s when she turned to Google.

In the search results, she saw skills that she had learned as a management major in the Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship Department in the University’s Kania School of Management.

“I was like, OK, it sounds like I can probably do those things. When you’re in the business school at Scranton, you take a wide variety of classes that supplement your major. So I took finance classes, I took accounting classes, and it was all still deep in my brain,” she says. “I was able to assess the financials and what we were charging, and make some changes.”

Passion for Business Development Sparked at Kania School

With Pilcavage at the helm, Coal Creative has grown into an award-winning creative agency with 14 full-time employees and a special emphasis on supporting local businesses and nonprofits.

The team creates websites, digital content, videos, and branding. The firm has been recognized by:

  • The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader for advertising and video production
  • The American Advertising Agency for branding and pro bono work
  • The Scranton Chamber of Commerce for community involvement

Pilcavage loves leading her team and says she discovered her enthusiasm for management while at Scranton.

“There was just something that spoke to me about the management classes, learning how people work,” she says. “My whole foundation, and I don’t want to sound too cliché, is because of the University.”

Outside the classroom, she performed with the Urban Beats dance crew, participated in the Scranton Emerging Leaders program, and took part in the Rock and Roll Retreat (a trip to the Cleveland area for service work and a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).

“All those experiences helped me figure out who I was, what type of people I wanted to surround myself with,” she says.

“I came into ‘the U’ not knowing who I was, and there were a lot of foundational pieces that were laid that I have been building on ever since. It’s a Jesuit school, and I’m a big quote person, so cura personalis (care for the whole person) and ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ those things are still foundational pieces of who I am.”

Making Time for Community Service

Pilcavage is on the board of three local organizations: Dress for Success Luzerne County, the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Rainbow Alliance.

She has been recognized as a standout local leader, being named:

  • One of the Top 25 Women in Business by the Northeast PA Business Journal in 2020
  • One of the Top 20 Under 40 by the Northeast PA Business Journal in 2017
  • A nominee to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2016

“Other people might say they knit or roller skate in their free time, but I like to advocate and go to events and raise money. It fuels me,” she says. “I made it a personal goal to get to as many tables as possible as a young female leader. And then, because those doors aren’t easy to open in the first place, I try to hold them open for other people.”

Supporting Work-Life Balance

At Coal Creative, she’s creating a supportive, balanced company culture. Her team has access to health care benefits, wellness programs, and maternity and paternity leave.

“My approach is being all-inclusive. When making decisions, I always sit down and talk with my team about what we need, understanding that I ultimately have to make the decision,” she says.

“We really see ourselves as an important cog in the machine of northeastern Pennsylvania and Wilkes-Barre. We’re a small business offering benefits that you don’t hear a lot of other small businesses offering in our area, but they’re happening in other places and big cities. We’re all millennials and Gen Z, trying to set the tone of how we want things to be, and we want true work-life balance.”