Joseph Burtoni graduated from CSU in 2011 with a B.S. in Business Administration, and a focus on Marketing and Financial Analysis. When he received his diploma, however, he didn’t have much — not even a job offer. “All I had was a diploma, student loans, and nowhere to go,” he says, adding, “I was so confident after multiple interviews with Volkswagen and a few top consulting firms, that I didn’t apply anywhere else.”
When none of those jobs came through, Burtoni packed up and moved to Denver, frustrated that he was not able to work in his chosen field of work. For nearly a year, he did what he could to support himself. He worked at the Apple store in Cherry Creek Mall, and also as a secretary for a manufacturer of wheelchair seat cushions. It felt long, and he didn’t enjoy the work, but kept plugging away at it.
And then, eventually, his whole life turned on a dime.
“My big break came through when my former professor at CSU, Tuba Ustuner, introduced me to her husband’s writing partner, who ran an advertising agency in New York City. He had a friend who was looking for an intern at an ad agency in the city,” he explains. “I had two phone interviews with them, and they gave me the shot I needed. They were paying minimum wage in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that was not going to stop me.”
For several months, Burtoni used his meager wages to stay with a friend in Milford, Connecticut, commuting two hours each way by train every day. After a couple more months sleeping on a couch in another friend’s apartment on the Upper East Side, he was able to find his own, first apartment — something he still calls one of the happiest moments of his life.
“Nothing good comes easy in life,” he notes, “and after a year and a half of struggling to find my place in this world, I found it in advertising in New York City. I lived there for just over four years. Four fabulous years, and I miss the city every day.”
Rising through the Ranks
After his internship was complete, the agency, Ammirati hired Burtoni on full time as an assistant account executive. He jokes that his job duties included, “acquiring beer for after-work parties, doing my boss’s expense reports, and taking over the front desk when the receptionist was out to lunch.” But he also worked with big clients: Labatt Blue, Cannondale Sports Group, Woodchuck Hard Cider, and others. “I worked on multiple TV Campaigns — including a Super Bowl spot — and helped launch new bikes, new beers, new ciders, and new websites.”
When a new client wanted help with social media, and it was such a new medium that no one knew what to do with it, Burtoni was given the responsibility by default, as the youngest person in the agency. He ran with it, and was soon tapped by a recruiter for a new role as social media strategist for Mercedes-Benz and smart, the automobile brand, in New York City at Razorfish, a well-known digital advertising agency.
“I’m a car guy,” he says. “Not like a guy who likes cars. Like, I sit on my couch and watch hours of cars, I get shivers when certain models drive by, and I can pinpoint the engine sound even if the car is not in sight.” It was a dream job, in a dream industry. He worked on two Super Bowl campaigns, launched 20 different vehicles with social media support, and was among the first to leverage Snapchat and Instagram for corporate marketing.
Burtoni’s name was making rounds in the industry, and soon a prestigious European agency, Jung von Matt, reached out to him after winning the account of BMW and MINI. They tapped him to run the social media portion of the business. When he agreed, he says, “They told me to pack my bags and move to Berlin, as they started on my visa paperwork.”
He stayed with the agency just 10 months. There, he learned about the European ad industry — but he wasn’t sure he’d stay in Germany.
Again, a new break came at just the right time. “My current agency, elbkind GmbH, reached out saying they handle MercedesBenz Global and other large Daimler pieces of business. They had a new program starting up that had no need for German language skill. I was told I would manage a team of 15 people. I said ‘Yes. Absolutely. I’m in.’”
Now, Burtoni heads the “Region Europe” Team, which is made up of 15 international citizens, working together to handle the social media communication for Mercedes-Benz and smart automobile brands across 15 European countries and in 18 different languages and dialects. “There are a lot of moving pieces here, but it has taught me to not only organize myself, but organize large and very complex processes to oversee content in 17 languages that I don’t speak,” he says. “I’ve had the ability to travel all over Europe with Mercedes-Benz, which has been an incredible experience. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Advice for Students
Burtoni is a prime example of just how important resilience is when it comes to careers. He paid his dues, worked his way up, and leveraged his personal passions along the way. To today’s students, he says, “Never give up. If you keep pushing forward, things will unlock for you. I promise,” adding, “Choose your passion over money each time. Life is short. If you truly love what you do, the money will come.”