Verizon’s John Nitti on being comfortable with discomfort
John Nitti, Verizon exec and winner of the Ad Club’s 2022 ‘New Yorker’ award, says that one of his secrets to success has been his willingness to face his fears and push himself. We catch up with him on his career story.
Verizon’s John Nitti
The Advertising Club of New York – known colloquially as the Ad Club – honors five individuals each year with its prestigious ‘Advertising People of the Year’ awards, each recognizing notable achievements in marketing across a range of categories. This year’s ‘New Yorker’ award was given to John Nitti, senior vice-president of strategy, new business and partner development at Verizon.
Nitti joined Verizon in 2015 as the company’s chief media officer, focusing on driving growth for Verizon’s digital marketing. A passionate innovator, collaborator and leader, Nitti now sits on several committees within the IT industry, including the 5G Future Forum and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) Strategy Group.
Nitti says that he first honed his business acumen and learned his negotiation skills from both watching his mother and his time working as a fruit salesman in Manhattan. Before joining Verizon he also worked as the chief investment officer for ZenithOptimedia, a subsidiary of PublicisGroupe, as well as having stints at American Express, Dentsu, Time, Inc and Young & Rubicam.
We recently sat down with Nitti to learn more about what’s inspired him to strive for greatness throughout his marketing career, and what he envisions for the future of the industry.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What have been your most significant professional achievements to date, and how have those impacted the trajectory of your career?
If I go back 13 years in my career, when I first made the jump from a client-side position at American Express for an agency holding company to build out a digital discipline, digital was in its infancy in building out as a channel. It was not like we are today, where everything is digitized. And so being able to take that risk and jump into a new position that didn’t have any precedent and really build out a discipline and a group from the ground up gave me the grit and the competence – as a New Yorker – to be able to take on that challenge.
It was a turning point in my career. It’s something that I’ve taken as I moved from different positions. A year ago I moved into corporate strategy. And I apply that same type of thing: moving into a new position, but taking a lot of the things that I’ve learned through the marketing and the advertising community and applying that to what I do at my job today.
Is there any advice that you’d like to offer younger marketing and advertising professionals who are just beginning to chart their own paths?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You need to embrace change. Knowing when you’re really innovating and doing something new is really when you feel the sickest to your stomach, and being okay with that has been a large part of how I’ve driven success within my career. Know that things are going to continually be shifting and changing around you. You need to be able to adapt and grow from that.
What inspires you?
My family is my inspiration. My parents enabled and taught me everything. My mother dragged around to different stores as a kid. That’s where I first learned my negotiation skills. [I also have] my family now: I have two boys and my wife Noelle, [and they] also enable me to do what I need to do, and [they] give me that inspiration to go out and do more.
A key part of managing uncertainty and anxiety is knowing you have a strong base, knowing that you can take a risk, and that’s not going to be the end of your career or the end of anything. As you go on in your career, you figure out that ... those primal things of what you need to survive are all common. And if you can anchor yourself in that, you can pretty much navigate through any of the complex situations.
Everybody feels that it’s going to be life or death. But growing up within marketing, we weren’t operating on a body. I wasn’t a brain surgeon, I wasn’t a heart surgeon. And so as much as I could have failed, it wasn’t going to be that detrimental. That’s part of what I see, quite honestly, in my own two boys and the younger working class: everything is under a microscope. Everything is immediately distributed, and out there for the world to see. And I hope that doesn’t kill risk-taking. [Because] a large part of what [allowed me to grow] as an individual on my career path was my ability to take risks.
The marketing industry, along with arguably everything else in our world, is changing rapidly. What trends do you expect will start arising and impacting the industry?
Fragmentation is going to continue [and] the fight for mindshare [will become] more and more difficult as technology evolves. The future experience is going to all be 3D ... whether that’s AR [or] VR.
The challenge for the ad industry is that we don’t just apply blunt tools or objects. If you look at the early marketing tactics within what we now call the metaverse now, it’s billboard-like – it’s very much the first level of a bad experience. And my hope is ... that we don’t just let history repeat itself. The metaverse and that frontier of ecosystems and engagement ... can solve for all the things that we didn’t have in the past with one-way conversations [on] TV commercials, [and] lack of understanding of the consumer’s environment. You’re technically immersing people when you talk AR [and] VR – there’s so much more you can do as a marketer to get across your complex messages or to create connection. All the things that we strive to do in 1D and 2D, you’ll have the ability to do in 3D.
Let’s just not make it a billboard that you’re sticking in a Roblox game. That’s not gonna do it. And we’re cutting ourselves short ... My hope is that as an industry we can embrace the screen, or the device that people are spending most time on, and [also everything that] the 3D immersion experience is going to enable for us as marketers.
What’s one thing about you, either personal or professional, that has been integral to your success as a marketer and that you suspect most people might not know about you?
One of my first jobs in high school – which also [led] into negotiation and my approach to business – was selling fruit from a fruit cart on the streets in Manhattan. Not many people know that I was a fruit peddler working with my cousin at that point in time.
[Also,] many people don’t realize that I’m introverted. I don’t like doing this. I don’t like being honored. I don’t like public speaking or speaking in front of large groups. Yet I’ve led 300- and 500-person teams before. For me, that’s part of the job, and so I have to put aside my introverted nature and tackle those things on a day-to-day basis ... It’s a constant push of myself. I’m pushing myself into that uncomfortable space ... it’s easier not to address something or let something manifest. But you need to sometimes tackle things head on and push to have those tough conversations. And in most instances, I’ve been successful because I’ve taken that risk and I’ve tackled that tough conversation, as painful as it may have been. And so I think that introversion actually helped me.
For more about the Advertising People of the Year award, click here.