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Hearst buys stake in Buffalo-based Martin Group

Less than 20 years after starting his Buffalo-based agency, Tod Martin is selling a stake in the region's largest marketing and communications firm to an international company.

Hearst Newspapers, part of Hearst Corp.'s global media conglomerate, has purchased a strategic equity stake in the Martin Group, giving a significant cash injection and corporate backing to support the firm's growth plans.

At the same time, the new partnership will also provide an opportunity for Martin Group to expand its reach through Hearst's network of over 360 businesses worldwide, in media, information and other services. Martin will be the only traditional advertising, marketing and branding firm within Hearst's empire of newspapers, TV stations, magazines, financial research, medical services, and even jet and helicopter maintenance.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the local firm will stay independent. Martin, the firm's founder, will remain the majority owner, and will take on the title of chairman and CEO. George R. Hearst III, president and publisher of the Albany Times-Union, will join him as Hearst's designee on a newly created board of directors.

“The investment we are making in the Martin Group will help the agency continue to rapidly evolve and expand, while at the same time offer a combined ability to provide customized marketing solutions and strategies,” George Hearst said in a press release.

Additionally, two of Martin's executives – Lisa Strock and Matt Davison – have made their own investments in the firm to join Martin and Hearst as owners and board members.

Strock, a senior vice president and managing director of the Buffalo office, who is one of the longest-tenured employees at Martin Group at 15 years, will become chief operating officer. Davison – who leads the public relations division after combining his own firm with Martin several years ago – will become chief business officer.

Tim Coppola will remain chief financial officer, while adding the role of chief administrative officer. Dion Pender will continue to oversee the Rochester office.

"We have grown exponentially over the last five years, into a real powerhouse regional firm, pushing towards national," Martin said. "I've been at this for 18 years as my own company. I’m looking to remain as chairman and CEO for the remainder of my career, but I’m not satisfied. I want to take it to the next level."

For Martin, the deal offers a chance to accelerate his fast-growing firm's growth even more, while also initiating the first elements of what could be succession planning. But he insists that he is not going anywhere soon.

"My eye is not on the door. My eye is on the future success of the company. I have many good years ahead of me," Martin said. "If succession develops along the way, we’ll wait and see."

Founded in 2001 with one employee, Martin has grown rapidly in the last two decades, and now has more than 100 employees across upstate New York, with offices in Buffalo, Rochester and Albany, and $17 million in annual billings. Its Albany office has been co-located within the Times Union headquarters building since 2018, when the companies first began to collaborate.

The firm assists clients with media and advertising, social media, digital marketing, public relations, creative services, research, strategy and analytics. It serves customers in the health care, financial services, education, professional services, sports, nonprofits and food and beverage industries, including Wegmans, New Era Cap, Under Armour, Puma, ASICS and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

"We are delivering and fighting and competing on a national scale and winning, right here in Buffalo, because of what we are capable of and our commitment and passion to deliver great work," Martin said.

Hearst Newspapers publishes 24 daily newspapers – including the Times Union, as well as the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News – and operates local digital marketing services and directories under its LocalEdge brand. The division employs 3,000.

Its New York City-based parent owns 33 television stations reaching 19% of American viewers, and more than 300 magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Men's Health and Car and Driver. It also has ownership interests in cable TV networks like A&E, the History Channel, Lifetime and ESPN, as well as digital services firms iCrossing and KUBRA and digital entertainment firm Complex Networks.

Additionally, it owns global financial services firm Fitch Group, parent of Fitch Ratings, and Hearst Health, which is a group of medical information and services companies. And it owns transportation businesses, such as CAMP Systems International, which provides software for maintaining jets and helicopters.

But while it has digital marketers – including InVue Digital in Larkvinville – it doesn't have a traditional advertising agency. And, Davison said, the deal offers a way for Martin to stay independent and retain its character, while still getting the benefits of a global company.

"The reach of Hearst is unique. It just gives us that pipeline to the whole world," Davison said. "Not a lot of agencies are able to get that without getting bought out."

Martin said he was first approached by Hearst officials about the investment, and quickly saw the potential. But he insisted it was always about a minority stake and not a full takeover.

"We have the power of one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world behind us, with a vision to become an entity far beyond what we are today," he said. "I want the evolution of Martin to be something special for many years to come, for as many people as possible ... There’s so much more to come from the Martin Group, for sure."

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