Kristy Martino

Our interview with June SURVIVAL speaker, Kristy Martino - Advocacy Leader, and Founder of Haigh-Martino.

PKX: How did you get started in the ad agency world?

Kristy: I was a textile designer for awhile and then moved into advertising. I thought: 

Oh, advertising must be “my thing.” I love words, I love images. The right combination of those things can be very powerful. 

My husband and I moved to North Carolina and worked in an agency together, but the moved back here to the seacoast during the recession. We started HAM/Haigh & Martino out the idea of “we can’t find a job, we need money, let’s start a business.” So the theme of SURVIVAL feels really pertinent to me - it has meaning for me. 

A couple of years ago I began feeling really unfilled - and that experience of living paycheck to paycheck during the recession and experiencing poverty as a kid - I needed to do something more important than just a logo for a restaurant. Logos are important, but I needed something more. 

So I got into advocacy. I worked on a campaign and it just blossomed from there. I have a foot in HAM and a foot in the advocacy world now. I don’t want anyone to feel powerless - I really felt that way. 

But I can see another career pivot coming soon though…I need something new and a new challenge constantly. 

Having your own business: people can still fire you. And you can also fire people. 

Which is incredibly powerful. Those are the biggest lessons we have learned. Saying no is sometimes better than saying yes. Everyone is just: “Say yes, say yes to everything!” But all of the sudden you are hemorrhaging money and you hate yourself. So just say no. I am the queen of saying no. 

PKX: What inspires you? How do you start thinking about a project that lands on your desk?

Kristy: I am a big problem solver. I look for problems, then I look for stories. “What is the story?” It boils it down to what you want to say, then how to say it in a way that moves people to do something. 

I love to ask questions and be adversarial - to ask questions people don’t want to ask. Esp in the creative world that people are over responding to. 

My response is to push back on that. Be different so you can see something that is new. 

Everything has been done. It all comes down to stories.

Being a doctor comes down to stories. Been a politician comes down to stories. It’s all about storytelling. 

My story is : NO. Haha. 

It’s funny, my husband Dylan told me to “be you - but tone it a down a bit” for this talk. But there is plenty to be mad about in the world - and that is alright. I’m not a pessimist though - I am just a questioner. 

I don’t just shake my fist at the screen though. I do something about it. 

That is my new rule - if you are gonna post something on Facebook - fine, but then write your senator and follow up. 

PKX: What inspires you production wise?

Kristy: I’m a huge art nerd. Art in general - I’m a huge consumer of all media. I created an entire look one year based on Julie Christie’s “Don’t Look Now” movie. And now I’m doing a textile project for Walmart sheets - and they are based on that mood board of Julie Christie 1974 movie. Haha - I can pitch pretty well, but that was a bit of a stretch for Walmart. 

But, I love that specificity. A single line from a movie or a shot can propel me into a project. If it’s good, it’s good. 

PKX: Is there anything in your industry that you are seeing as new or exciting?

Kristy: I have always been deeply interested in social justice and racism in America. 

Our industry is all white people, all the time. Specifically the ad industry. What I’m seeing is an effort to really name that out loud, and then try to make an effort to diversify. 

There are programs to teach formerly incarcerated people to learn to code. We are trying to change that in our company too. That is the most exciting thing to me. 

Even that Pepsi Ad - it’s an opp to say “how tone deaf can you be?” Which is a conversation starter. 

PKX: If you could open a door and go anywhere - where would you go

Kristy: This is a bummer of an answer - but I would go back to moments in my own life and do them differently. But I would also absolutely go back to the German Expressionism era where Hitler and the Nazi’s tried to erase all these artists.  That art ended up being some of my favorite art in the world. That would be incredible. 

And then…I want to go anywhere, anytime. Cleveland. Rwanda. 

PKX: How does the topic of SURVIVAL speak to you?

Kristy:  I almost get embarrassed when I have a story for everything. So much has happened in my life. I’ve had a lot of adversity and bad situations. I cringe sometimes. I’m in survival mode right now - every single day is just managing mental health issues, past trauma, financial security. But when I step outside myself - when I stop and slow down - life is pretty incredible. 

I hear stories of people just trying to get through to the next day, and suddenly the rhetoric and barriers between people breaks down. 

I have to stop and just say: “No, I’m alright - I’ll get through this.” This is a very intense theme, and I’m an intense person! 

PKX: What advice would you give someone just entering your industry?

Kristy: Know your design education. But not in the way people assume. I didn’t go to school for design. I don’t have a bachelors. My husband doesn’t have a college degree. 

The normative paths to getting a job in an agency: don’t revolve your life around that. 

Get to know someone in the industry, and then go back in time and learn the history.

If you are not a curious person - don’t get into the creative business. 

If you want to show up and punch a clock, and you are not registering what is beautiful and not beautiful in the world - then just don’t do it. So many people are so bored, but there is so much to see and discuss. 

PKX: If we could invite anyone to PKX, who would it be?

Kristy: Any person of color. Any person of color. Any person of color.

Heard after we hit “stop” moments with Kristy…

I might even have enough points to fly to Cleveland right now. 

Photography by Raya Al-Hashmi of Raya on Assignment. Interview by Geneve Hoffman, Host of CreativeMornings PKX - Portsmouth NH. Interview held at Profile Coffee Bar, Portsmouth NH.