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So, You Want to Work in Advertising?

24 min read
June 28, 2023

Members of The Martin Group team share the distinctive journeys which led them to their respective disciplines and/or this agency.  

Jim Lynch – Vice President | Media 

I came to The Martin Group as [Chief Operating Officer] Lisa Bellacicco and I used to work together at another agency. We both departed there in late 2005: she to TMG and me to another job.  

She reached out to me in 2007 and asked if I could freelance on some paid media projects as there was no in-house media department at that time. So I did some freelance paid media projects for TMG after 4 PM daily. It was really great for three years as a freelance media consultant for TMG.  

Really glad that it turned into a full-time job for the past 12 years after a brief stint at another agency for a year! 

Dan Giacomini – Vice President | Strategy 

I was a history major, no idea what I wanted to do after college until my girlfriend senior year suggested I move to NYC to do PR. I didn’t even know what “PR” stood for or meant, but I took her advice and got an internship in the communications department of a large recycling company – which led to a job at a creative agency specializing in “green marketing.” We got acquired by a big PR firm (FD), who then got acquired by a large publicly traded consulting firm (FTI Consulting). So within about a year, I went from not really having any idea what I would do after college to being a senior account executive working on some of the world’s most recognizable brands (Allstate, Coca-Cola, etc.). 

John Jiloty – Senior Vice President | Growth Channels and Content 

I have always been on the media side, first as a journalist and then in more of a business development role working with advertisers on how they could activate within print, digital, social, and experiential channels. I think the creative side of agencies and the fact that there are so many different clients and projects makes advertising an attractive industry to pivot into. And I think former journalists who can identify good stories and how to tell them are incredibly valuable. 

Kristina Robinson – Digital Developer 

Ever since I was in sixth grade, I thought I KNEW what I wanted to do when I grew up, and that was to become a forensic scientist, particularly specializing in forensic chemistry or ballistics. I took a college level course in twelfth grade, competed as a Science Olympiad team member, and even got accepted into SUNY Alfred State College of Technology’s Forensic Program. 

My first semester was absolute chaos – adjusting to being on my own, learning to manage my time, and balancing my studies was a challenge in itself. Things got even more challenging when I finished my first semester with a 1.27 GPA… what a wake-up call! I got put on academic probation and knew I had to step it up. There was no way I was getting kicked out and going home to tell my father I failed out. That just wasn’t an option. So I buckled down and really focused on my studies. My second semester came and went, and though I did bring up my GPA a bit, I was still barely passing and was still on academic probation. I got pushed down to intro level courses (ouch) which I passed with flying colors – only to struggle again with the first level courses of the Forensic Program.  

To be fair, I wasn’t entirely at a loss – the program was just extremely stiff (rightfully so, a person could go to prison for years if you make a mistake as a professional), so it did not allow for partial credit. It was the equivalent of doing a 10-point math problem where you would show all your work, get the answer right, but forget to carry down the negative symbol. Zero points. 

Halfway through my sophomore year, I panicked and knew this wasn’t working and I had to do something. After getting some insight from a few of my friends and trying to align my next major with something I was sort of good at, I switched my major to Security and Assurance. I figured this would be a nice combination of my original goal, a forensic scientist, with something I was familiar with (thanks, Myspace layouts!): computer code.  

I started that semester with a bit more hope than my last few, and it was very refreshing. Well, plot twist – I gave up on Security and Assurance entirely after taking one required course of the program – Web Development. Something about it really intrigued me, and Professor Enke made it even more so! After that, I switched my major again and eventually graduated with a BS in Web Development! Thankfully, I had an amazing guidance counselor (shoutout to Professor O’Connor!) who helped me transfer as many credits as I could and helped guide me to create a plan for finishing my degree only one year later than I originally planned (a financial MIRACLE). 

After switching my major twice, a lot of hard work, a LOT of tears (haha) and many late nights/early mornings, I managed to graduate in five years, and even made the Dean’s List (take THAT 1.27 GPA!!). My place of internship hired me upon graduating, and after a couple more years of cultivating my skills, I knew it was time to make the next step – so I applied to The Martin Group. 

My journey definitely took a few wild turns, and quite honestly, I felt as though I was about to drive off a cliff a few times. But with determination, an incredible support system, and amazing friends to help along the way, I’ve found myself in a spot that freshman Me never would have imagined, but am beyond grateful and so happy with where that journey has led me. 

Chris Colton – Public Relations Director 

OK, it’s honesty hour. Agency life, public relations, and Upstate New York — none of this was in my plan.  

I grew up just north of New York City and majored in music industry. The idea was that my band would gain traction, and I’d use my college education to navigate the business. If it didn’t work out, maybe I’d manage artists, start an indie label, or pivot into A&R. 

In my last semester, summer of 2003, I interned for ExcessDB Entertainment, a concert promoter that was putting on some of the biggest punk, emo, and hardcore shows in New Jersey. Their following was huge. The company was run by an incredibly savvy guy, Heath Miller, who was also getting into artist management. I mentioned to Heath on my first day that I knew my way around Adobe Illustrator, and he was like, “Cool, you’re my new graphic designer.” One of my main responsibilities was putting together all of ExcessDB’s ads and fliers, which were handed out at every show and published in the local alt-weekly.  

It was an awesome experience. But for various reasons that internship also made me realize that I didn’t want to pursue a career on the business side of music. Enter panic mode.  

I kept designing for ExcessDB as a freelancer, for at least the next couple years, and took on additional clients through word of mouth. (Including my own — I bartended at a chain called Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse and would tell anyone who’d listen about my side business.)  

From there, I just started following my interests. I’d get into something, educate myself as much as possible, and opportunities would rise to the surface.  

  • 2006: I kept on top of my game in audio production. When a friend called me in June, saying he needed a tech to help fulfill an audio book contract, I was on-site the next day. I quit food service, started working full time in Manhattan for the American Foundation for the Blind, and maintained my freelance business.  
  • 2008: In my free time, I learned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript using some free online tools and library books. That spring, I happened to notice that my favorite sports radio station (the legendary WFAN) had posted an opening for a “webmaster.” During the interview, I told them everything that was wrong with their website, and somehow still got the job. Two months later, I moved to the Albany area, and somehow stayed on the job as the station’s first full-time remote staffer. 
  • Early 2010s: WFAN’s website merged with several other media properties in New York City owned by the CBS Corporation. The new entity, CBS New York, was to be a journalistic enterprise. So I taught myself everything I could about journalism — writing, editing, ethics, best practices, you name it. And I loved it! Eventually, CBS Radio promoted me to managing editor, overseeing digital content and strategy — including news, opinion, and social media — for sports in its NYC cluster. Sometime around 2012, we also started pitching our own news to boost our site’s pageviews. We landed WFAN’s stories on national sites like Pro Football Talk and Deadspin, and got local media attention for the station’s charity events. I was getting into public relations without even knowing it. 
  • 2015: Fast-forward, I’m a new dad; our son is approaching his first birthday. I’m wearing out from the grind of 24/7 sports news. I’ve learned the basics of public relations, and I’m ready to test the job market; this time, looking for a job in the Albany area. My first application went to Albany Law School for an opening in its communications and marketing office. The hiring manager was impressed with one of my CBS New York articles — a piece on the top 10 mustaches in baseball history. I’m not joking. I got the job. 
  • 2018: Still at Albany Law, I’m getting more adept at PR and marketing, learning on the fly. I’ve learned new skills, including portrait and event photography, and have leveled up my writing. Toward the end of the year, the school named me interim director of communications and marketing — an appointment that would eventually become permanent. Around this time, I started thinking it’d be nice to stop wearing multiple hats and maybe chase a career solely in PR. I also became acquainted with Jen Hunold and John Mackowiak at The Martin Group, which had just opened an office in Albany.  
  • 2020: It’s early fall, first year of the pandemic. Coming off an intense several months communicating our school’s campus shutdown and reopening, I found myself thinking more seriously about specializing in PR. The Martin Group had just posted an opening that checked all my boxes. I was ready to finally steer my career in a specific direction.  
  • 2023: Today, I’m coming up on three years with The Martin Group, serving as the PR lead for clients such as NFL Football Operations, Western Governors University, and Spartan Race. For the first time, I feel like my career has a linear path forward — one I’ve chosen to pursue. But I have zero regrets about my winding journey because I gained skills, contacts, and lifelong friends at every stop along the way. I’ve also come to realize that we all hold immense potential. What’s the key to unlocking it? For me, it was a combination of curiosity and self-education — two things that I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon.  

Rachel Surdi – Senior Digital Marketing Manager 

I started my career in digital marketing at a young age by teaching myself web/graphic design when I was 10 years old.

Just for fun, I would create entire magazines in Microsoft Word and websites in Geocities, as well as animated GIFs in Jasc Animation Shop. What I enjoyed the most, however, was teaching myself new skills and creating tutorials to teach others. I loved being able to see what was happening on the back end of the website and how it impacted the front end. As a kid, I was way more interested in solving problems on the computer than I was in playing outside. This evolved into aspirations of becoming a web designer, and I went on to study digital media. When the coding aspect became more challenging than I had anticipated and the design curriculum seemed to be outdated (we were studying Adobe Flash, for instance, which is obsolete now), I switched my major to Public Communication and focused on the Public Relations track. One semester, I took nothing but writing classes, and I absolutely loved it. I didn’t pursue it, but one of my teachers gave me rave reviews and kept telling me she wished she could clone me! 

Freshman year of college, I joined the school newspaper immediately. Thanks to my design skills, I was hired as the Layout Editor for a stipend, which meant laying out the entire newspaper in Adobe InDesign and creating graphics in Photoshop into the wee hours of the night. I continued working for the paper after I graduated with my associate degree in public communication from Niagara County Community College (NCCC). Sophomore year, I was hired as a marketing intern for a local technology company (where the current CEO of ACV Auctions, George Chamoun, was the founder and Vice President of Marketing at the time) called Synacor. As a marketing intern, I wore a variety of hats and took on responsibilities with research, strategy, reporting, design, creative concepting, and more. I even had one of my design concepts for a promotion for Toshiba selected over designers with 20+ years of experience and earned Synacor’s “Best Apprentice” award for the employee that learns the fastest. 

I kept getting my internship at Synacor extended until I was hired on full time as a Project Coordinator for Client Services. I was part of an agile web development team building websites and held the role of scrum master to a team of ~10 software developers. In the meantime, I earned my master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from St. Bonaventure University and interned for Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Arts Center, a nonprofit that hosts digital media courses and art exhibitions, which I subsequently wrote my master’s thesis on. I briefly worked for Niagara Frontier Publications before moving to Social Yeah, a boutique social media agency. At Social Yeah, I was promoted several times, from Graphic and Web Designer to Design Manager to Operations Manager. I assisted with hiring and new business and helped grow the company from ~6-11 employees and from ~30-50 clients. I also had the opportunity to champion an internal rebrand for Social Yeah and had several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities including the chance to visit the Facebook office for a Facebook Blueprint course in Chicago as well as attend a two-day course on finances/pricing for agencies.

I continued exploring working for startups when I was hired as the Director of Marketing for Thimble, a subscription box company with a curriculum that teaches students how to build and code electronics. I did a lot of grassroots and social media marketing to help them grow their subscriber base. We created a ton of content including endless photo/video shoots, a video for Shark Tank, and hosted/attended events. Once I started to miss having a marketing team to collaborate with, I switched to the brand side, and was hired as Content Marketing Manager for Life Storage. In this role, I monitored the social media for 750+ locations, acted as editor in chief of the Life Storage blog, and discovered my passion for SEO. I even had the opportunity to attend MozCon, Moz’s SEO conference in Seattle, WA. Funny enough, while working at Life Storage, I attended a social media event at The Martin Group, and felt compelled to network with Mandy Bly, who seemed to be on the same wavelength as me in every way. 

I began working remotely before the pandemic when I was hired as a Marketing Lead at ITX, a software development company based out of Rochester. I loved that this role allowed me to consult clients on their websites and ad campaigns, very similar to what I do for TMG today. One of my campaigns earned a Rochester Pinnacle Award for Paid Search. Shortly after, my team dissolved to start their own agency, and I happened to be recruited by Blackline Group, a boutique procurement agency based in Seattle, WA, to become their first (remote) Marketing hire. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to position them for success, so I worked there for about a year until they were acquired by Kainos, and Mandy happened to reach out to me on LinkedIn about the Senior Digital Marketing Manager role at The Martin Group. 

Here at The Martin Group, I get the best aspects of all my past roles, including my dream of being involved with web design. 

The rest is history, and I’m so happy to be here! 

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