Leadership Team

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John Abbate


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John knows American cities and communities by heart, having logged more than a half a million miles throughout the USA helping Marketing Alliance clients craft powerful marketing messages and compelling narratives that have resulted in dynamic economic development.

Fortunately, John is comfortable behind the wheel of a car after growing up in the Motor City area. In fact, he began his career at the in-house marketing department of General Motors more than 26 years ago, before heading south where he worked for advertising agencies and as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for an international graphics firm.

John founded Marketing Alliance in 2001, and over the past few years he and the rest of the MA staff have seen clients weather the Great Recession and thrive, thanks to successful economic development.

“I understand that American communities are facing a whole new world of global competition,” he says. “But I also know that cities and regions, large and small, can compete and win.  One thing, however, is key: our doing a good job in giving them every possible competitive advantage we can.”

One place John would like to put in more miles: his boat, sitting in a slip at Charlotte Harbor in Punta Gorda, Florida. Though he rarely gets the opportunity, he finds cruising the tidal estuaries particularly satisfying.

Mark Weilenman

Vice President, Sales & Marketing

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Working closely with Marketing Alliance clients over the past 10 years, Mark has developed a good feel for the rhythm of American communities, for what keeps them humming.

“It’s important to have a strong relationship between public and private sectors, which depends in large part on good communication,” he says. “And that’s just one avenue where robust marketing for economic development can make a difference, not only in attracting new investment but in creating a sense of shared enterprise among all stakeholders.”

Maintaining a shared vision and commitment is something Mark knows well, as a military veteran who served as the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Marketing Director for 21 years before transitioning to the private sector and to Marketing Alliance over 10 years ago.

In his down time Mark hones his own rhythms as a singer and guitarist jamming with various musical groups in venues (and living rooms) throughout the Jackson area. Happily married, Mark's proudest accomplishment is helping raise their two children into wonderful young adults. His not-so-secret passion? The New Orleans Saints. Who Dat!

Mark Kitchens

Vice President, Creative Services

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You might say work has come full circle for Mark. He began his career studying architecture before the lure of graphic design drew him into marketing more than 25 years ago, and today he finds himself helping to design and construct virtual cityscapes and industrial websites as he guides the Marketing Alliance creative team in the production of 3D animations, interactive and print-based media for dynamic economic development marketing.

“Marketers often talk about their client’s ‘image,’ but an image is a ‘still life’ and what we do goes beyond that,” Mark points out. “By combining today’s technology with tried-and-true aesthetics and narrative, what we aim to create is a vibrant, in-depth portrayal that gets to the heart of what the city or region is all about.”

Mark’s off-hours pursuit is very similar. With his hand-painted digital portraiture of people, pets and places, he trades tubes of paint for meticulous digital strokes to create timeless quality in a thoroughly 21st century product.

Mike Mathis

Brand Director

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Mike joined Marketing Alliance after serving as executive creative director and writer in the ad agency world. As a leader in economic development branding, he’s worked with communities and corporations from New York to Florida. Mike has a passion for branding and it shows in his work and client presentations.

Mike honed his branding expertise for some of the most respected corporations in the United States, creating brand identities for category and industry leaders like SunTrust Banks, Gerber, California Casualty Insurance, Milwaukee Electric Tools, Wegmans Food Markets, New York City’s oldest bank and Long Island’s premier wealth management firm.

Mike is a native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Thanks to a U.S. Navy dad, he grew up in California, Hawaii, Washington, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia. He is the father of four and lives in sunny Florida.

Mike has authored two books. His first was a novel about the most statistically average man in America called “The Median Man.” Recently, he published a photo-essay collection of essays based on visiting a Florida beach daily for one year. It’s called “The Beach: 365 Little Stories.” Both will be available soon from Amazon, Kindle and Apple iBooks.

Bob Oertel

Visualization Director

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An industrial designer by training, Bob first realized the value of 3D technology in his job designing interiors for corporate aircraft.  Later when he opened his own architectural illustration and design company, his expertise—and enthusiasm—grew, as he saw again and again how 3D could “enable people to see what doesn’t yet exist.”  Naturally Bob became the perfect fit for Marketing Alliance’s mission helping economic development clients realize their potential by visualizing it through vibrant 3D site build-outs and animations.

“3D technology is one of the unique services that Marketing Alliance is able to offer,” Bob points out. “And seeing the results on the screen as well as in bottom line industrial investment for our clients is gratifying. We try to top ourselves with each project.”

Ironically, the man who visualizes the future is married to an American history professor.  And as the father of school-age children, he’s anchored firmly in the “now” of sports and school activities.

Porter Foster

Web Development Director

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How will site selectors access your website? Any way they want, thanks to Porter’s top-flight technical expertise and guidance.  It’s not an easy job. With internet habits and platforms evolving and proliferating at an astounding rate, Porter’s job as Web Development Director brings new challenges virtually every day.

“Any web solution is going to have to be tested and retested across at least a dozen configurations,” he explains.  But the effort, he believes, is worth it. “A website is one of the smartest investments that an economic developer can make.  A compelling website that communicates across platforms is crucial to insuring the investment yields the highest return.”

As a happy husband and father, Porter is something of a homebody, although he does enjoy launching into new worlds as he joins friends to explore and navigate the online environments of massive global multi-player games.

Natalia Diaz-Payton

Digital Marketing Specialist

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Natalia is an award winning content and digital marketer with over a decade of delivering superior branding experiences. Highly adaptable, she has worked in various fields including film, education, finance, government, sports and live entertainment. She has also worked in tandem with some of the biggest event producers and sports teams in the NBA, NHL and MLS. As invited Judge for the American Business Awards, she consistently keeps up-to-date on trends and marketplace changes. She has a proven ability to identify opportunities and deliver effective strategies that generate results.

Melissah Bruce

Creative Production Manager

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Melissah has a strong background in digital marketing and project management and she is the person who is charged with keeping all of our work on schedule and delivered to you on time. She has been working personally & professionally in social media and digital marketing for over ten years and has watched it develop from casual usage to the must-have marketing tool it is today. In previous roles she has served as the social media voice for Florida Orange Juice, built social media influencer campaigns for brands such as Audi and Clif Bar, and was featured in an article in the New York Times for the movie "Julie & Julia". In her free time you will always find her with her iPhone in hand, sharing her love of food, the outdoors, and the beauty of her home - Florida

John Abbate Jr.

Creative Production, FAA Certified Drone Pilot

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John Jr. is the company’s FAA certified drone pilot with close to five years of videography and photography experience under his belt. John graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Production in December 2013. In early 2014, John started his own video production company, Electric Emu VP, providing photo, video, and drone services to real estate agents. Today, John Jr. provides Marketing Alliance Inc. the same skills he used with Electric Emu in order to take the company to the skies. 

Jody HIll

Creative Production

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Jody has a passion for video with more than a decade of experience in the field. He obtained his certification in digital film from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina, during which he worked on a local TV show. Immediately after, Jody, along his business partners, launched their own production company, New Angle Films. There, he served businesses in multiple states to create unique promo videos to market their companies. He now uses his video skills, as well as talents in 3D modeling, animation, web design, and other fields to help take Marketing Alliance to the next level.

Carol Gassaway

Copy Writer

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For more than two decades, writer and editor Carol Gassaway has made compelling communication her business, promoting clients from every segment of the marketplace, from consumer to industrial. When it comes to economic development marketing, Carol excels at identifying community assets and effectively communicating the advantages of each. Carol has helped to create advertising and marketing strategies for numerous economic development agencies on both local and national levels.

In addition to her advertising and marketing experience, she has reported for local and regional business journals, and has served as a non-fiction editor for a variety of projects. She is also a published novelist.

Kirsten Kitchens

Creative Production

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Kirsten is creative to her core. She is a film editor, camera operator, graphic designer, and web designer, with editing being her primary passion. Prior to Marketing Alliance, Kirsten, along with her business partners, launched their own production company, New Angle Films in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today Kirsten uses her extensive creative skills to enhance the products and services Marketing Alliance offers to our customers.


“We’re off to a great start, on this project and on the new alliance as a whole. Great new growth is ahead.”

Joe Max Higgins, Jr.,
Chief Executive Officer,
Columbus Lowndes
Development LINK