The Martha Stewart Connection
Alums thriving at leading lifestyle and homemaking giant
- By Jon Reidel
Michelle McGuirk O'Connor ’86 remembers seeing the first issue of Martha Stewart Living in the spring of 1991 and turning to her husband-to-be and saying “this is the future.” As fate would have it, she was hired only a few months later as one of the first employees of the company where she would spend the next 13 years as it turned into a billion-dollar, multimedia giant.
After taking some time off to raise four children, McGuirk O’Connor returned to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the publishing, internet, broadcasting and merchandising conglomerate, as home director of integrated sales. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” she says. “It’s a creative machine that’s always been on the cutting edge. Martha is very inspiring to work for and continues to be as involved as ever. She still runs an amazing company.”
When McGuirk O’Connor returned to MSLO in 2010 she was pleasantly surprised at the number of new and creative employees including two young alums of the University of Vermont. Emily Rodney, a 2009 graduate of Community Development and Applied Economics with a focus in public communications, was hired as a sales development assistant and now works as production associate in Creative Services. Prior to that, she worked as a freelancer for Behind the Burner as a production assistant and edited and hosted a Web video series for the food media brand.
“It’s always been a dream to work at MSLO,” says Rodney. “Martha’s brand is pretty fascinating, and it covers a lot of areas which I’m very interested in -- like marketing, production and television. I’ve learned a lot in a variety of areas since I started here.”
Megan Piro, a 2008 graduate of the School of Business Administration, also works at MSLO as a digital ad sales associate after working for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy as a media planner responsible for planning advertising and promoting all primetime shows on ABC. “My job is a bit different because now I sell media on marthastewart.com to advertisers like ABC by prospecting accounts, building relationships, and telling a compelling story of why our consumers are valuable to our advertisers, and therefore, why we deserve to be on a media plan. After the sale is complete, we optimize the media to ensure that it is performing well and reaching the desired target audience. I’ve learned a lot since coming here.”
Alumni networking key to landing jobs
Two other UVM alums worked at MSLO before McGuirk O’Connor returned and prior to the arrival of Piro and Rodney. Betsy Bartosiak ’08, a marketing major in the School of Business Administration, was a wedding advertising sales assistant at MSLO before taking a job at Warner Brothers Digital Media as a digital ad sales account executive at TMZ.com. She now works as an account executive at Selectable Media. Vanessa Blaber ’08, a CDAE grad with a focus in entrepreneurship, also worked at MSLO as an integrated marketing assistant before leaving for a position as a customer relationship marketing specialist at Virgin Atlantic Airways.
The odds of five alums all working at MSLO within a few years of each other seem slim, but as business and social networking sites liked LinkedIn, Facebook and UVM alumni networking sites like UVM Connection have evolved, so has the likelihood of alumni helping each other land jobs.
“I was looking for something more permanent and also in the media world, so I went through UVM's alumni website and did some research,” says Rodney. “I noticed Vanessa Blaber on the site and that she worked at Martha Stewart. I am a big advocate of networking through UVM alumni, because you really never know who knows who, and it's a great way to expand your network both in your profession and outside. I got in touch with her via LinkedIn and she told me she was going to Virgin Atlantic. I set up an interview with her boss that coming Tuesday, and on Friday I got the offer to become a full-time employee at MSLO in their marketing department.”
Piro, who says she leveraged relationships she’d made at Wieden+Kennedy to prepare for her interviews with MSLO, is friends with Bartosiak whom she used as a resource and to make additional contacts -- and learn more about the company.
“Rocki Lee DeWitt (former dean of the School of Business Administration) probably helped me the most while I was at UVM and really encouraged me to reach out to alumni, set up informational interviews, read industry news and attend relevant panels and discussions that the school held,” she says. “I also was close with Professor Sinkula, Professor Amy Tomas, and Professor Bonifield at the time who all helped in my career path, either introducing me to alumni, aiding me in landing internships, or allowing me to do independent studies my senior year, which enabled me to get additional real-world experience while I was still in school.”
McGuirk O’Connor landed her first job at the ad agency Young & Rubicam after interviewing at a series of agencies during the spring of her senior year. She later worked for Norman Lear at a company called Channels and at Town & Country magazine before "seeing the future" and moving over to Martha Stewart Living.
“There’s a lot of good young talent here and quite a few people who have been here since the beginning,” says McGuirk O’Connor, who recently attended her 25th reunion at UVM. “I’m so pleased UVM is turning out these wonderful graduates who are so professional and together. Emily and Megan have already made an impact here and will do very well. They really are superstars.”