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April 29, 2024 Corner Office

With new leader, Makiaris Media looks to future amid changing media, advertising landscape

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Donna Staples is the new owner and president of Makiaris Media.
Donna Staples at a glance
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Donna Staples in February took the reins from her former boss and mentor Irene Makiaris, who broke a glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to launch her own media-buying business in Connecticut.

As the new owner and president of Makiaris Media, Staples said she is focused on continuing her predecessor’s legacy. Her priorities include retaining longtime clients, keeping up with advancing technology and expanding the firm’s reach beyond Connecticut.

Makiaris Media is a Rocky Hill-based media planning and buying agency founded in 1987. The firm is different from an advertising or marketing agency in that it doesn’t create ad campaigns or slogans.

Instead, it helps determine the best placement of a company’s advertising and marketing materials on various media channels, such as newspapers, radio, television, billboards and digital and social media.

The firm’s in-state clients include the Connecticut Lottery Corp., University of Connecticut and Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.

Makiaris Media has helped UConn promote its brand with pole banners at Bradley International Airport. It’s also helped the CT Lottery place ads on television and radio stations, highway billboards and at Yard Goats games. Maritime Aquarium has promoted exhibits using wrapped bus campaigns.

In recent years, part of the firm’s growth strategy has been to expand services to clients outside Connecticut, Staples said.

Makiaris Media has picked up clients in Florida, like Minto Communities home builders; a casino in Arkansas; and in South Carolina, Makiaris Media buys media for the Medical University of South Carolina, which includes a hospital, university and regional health network.

Part of the challenge, Staples said, is keeping up with the changing media landscape, which, in recent years, has included a decline in traditional media, like print, cable and television ads.

She said close to 90% of households used to have cable television; now that number is around 50%.

“So, we have to reach them another way,” Staples said of today’s consumers.

Her team is seeing more demand from clients to be on social media channels like YouTube and LinkedIn, and on streaming services on smartphones and TVs.

‘Stable ground’

Staples, 56, attended Endicott College, earning an associate degree in advertising, then a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Post University. She worked for advertising agencies as a media assistant before she was hired by Makiaris in 1997.

They quickly became trusted colleagues within the small company, which now has 15 employees, including a management team as well as media planners, buyers and coordinators.

Staples, who declined to share annual revenues, earned a management position in 2004, and proceeded to take on new roles with increasing leadership responsibility. She was named president in 2019, following the retirement of John Sculley.

As time went on, Irene Makiaris reduced her time and roles within the company.

The pandemic was a volatile time, Staples said, as clients canceled advertising. Irene Makiaris stayed on to help the firm navigate those headwinds.

“Once we got through it and got on stable ground, we started to build more business and start Makiaris’ retirement plan,” Staples said.

Makiaris Media is still a woman-owned business and its staff is 100% women.


Challenges include those faced by many small businesses, Staples said, such as the increasing costs of health insurance and the high costs of doing business in Connecticut.

In addition, advertising customers want more information and are demanding more accountability and a greater return on investment for every dollar spent.

Media-buying companies used to rely on data such as ratings to gauge how big of an audience a campaign can reach. Now, it’s more a question of how many “impressions” a campaign gets, meaning how many views or eyeballs are on it, Staples said.

Makiaris Media invests heavily in media research tools — such as Nielsen Media Company ratings, artificial intelligence, Scarborough demographic and behavioral data, and eMarketer technology — that help identify targeted audiences and what they’re watching, listening to or seeing, Staples said.

“So, we don’t have to rely on the radio or TV station to get us their ratings, we have it all in-house,” she said. “Outside of our staff and salaries, the biggest line item in our budget is research tools.”

Makiaris Media also uses AI for all those tools to analyze data “minute by minute,” which is then reviewed by a media-buying staff member.

Digital privacy is also a challenge, and balancing the flood of available information and data with clients’ privacy will continue to require careful consideration, Staples said.

“Makiaris Media is well-known for the integrity and honesty and hard work that we do in the market,” Staples said. “And that all came from Irene and her culture and those are the things that I have learned from her and will continue on.”

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