John Piccone Of Adform: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &…

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John Piccone Of Adform: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Do not hesitate. Making decisions in a timely manner is the key to learning and ultimately success. Customers are the genesis for the best ideas. “If your product did this” is often where product innovation comes from. Making sure the feedback loop from sales to product management is timely and clear will generate client delight and customer growth if managed properly.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing John Piccone.

John Piccone has been at the forefront of advertising technology for the entirety of his career, currently serving as Regional President, Americas at Adform. He boasts nearly three decades of experience formulating commercial strategy and operational structure to maximize revenue through media, technology and advertising services in the United States and Europe.

John features a particularly strong heritage in video and CTV advertising, which has proven critical given the current market dynamics and increased use of these channels in the United States.

Prior to joining Adform, John served as president of QTT, a patented advertising technology and a division of Viamedia Inc. While there, he enabled clients access to the buying and selling of linear television advertising through existing digital programmatic buying platforms. John has also worked in a variety of additional executive leadership roles for companies such as Simulmedia Inc., Innovid, HealthiNation, BlackArrow (Cadent) and 24/7 Real Media, now trading as Xaxis.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I originally started in the newspaper advertising business and when the Internet went mainstream in the mid ’90s, I joined one of the first advertising technology companies (24/7RealMedia) focused on selling advertising and technology services to publishers and advertisers. I was transferred to Europe and spent the next decade building local offices in ten countries. We scaled the business through the bubble, stabilized through the “Dot Bomb” period and then through another period of fast growth and sold the company to WPP, the largest agency holding company at the time.

Hooked on the power of technology to help brands grow their business through advertising, I helped create the go-to-market strategy and securing investment and operating the sales and business teams for BlackArrow (trading as Cadent) and Healthination, Simulmedia, and QTT.

All of this would not have been possible if not for the work by so many talented and cutting edge chief executives throughout my career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

During one of the first sales calls that I did by myself, I was so excited to explain my products and services that I talked the entire time and lost the opportunity to build a relationship and learn what they really needed. I got an A for enthusiasm but an F for winning the business.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been very fortunate to have worked for some of the brightest minds in the business. Some of the key attributes that they exhibited that led me and the rest of our company to success are two fold: grit and the importance of storytelling to engage people. During a particular period of economic turbulence that was affecting the company I worked for at the time, our leader had to give a presentation to what was supposed to be a packed room. Unfortunately, due to events beyond our control no one showed except for employees of the company. Although he could have canceled the event, he instead gave one of the best presentations and performances I had seen to date. We left the room motivated by his ability to carry on and he also reinforced why we loved working for the company. It also impressed upon me that we must always give our best each and every day and not be distracted by things we cannot control.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The digital advertising industry is fraught with issues concerning privacy. Thanks to our European history, where privacy laws are more consumer focused than in the U.S., our advertising technology stack needed to deliver on a higher set of principles. As a result, our purpose and business are intertwined because we must help brands grow by protecting their data and their customers. As a consumer myself, it motivates me knowing that every new customer Adform has the opportunity to help, we are making the open internet more privacy friendly.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Courage and grit are the two ingredients that I rely on most to move businesses forward. In today’s crowded advertising and marketing ecosystem, getting attention often includes taking on a leadership role by educating a client through information about their category and even about their business. Sometimes that information isn’t the most complimentary so bringing that story to a client requires courage. The grit comes in when you can prove that your services can help fix that problem and grow their business.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I think motivation comes from eliminating the fear of failure and recognizing the correlation risk taking has towards success. Each person goes through some version of that journey from which they lean on to contextualize for the specific challenge they may be facing.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

The books that have influenced me the most are historical biographies of people who have overcome challenges, and as a result, their impact is still felt today. Leaders like Ulysses S. Grant and Alexander Hamilton had to overcome something in their lives that when they found their purpose had a compound effect on generations to come.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Confidence that someday these challenging times will pass and when it does, we can look back and say we did it.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

I think story-telling, whether through their own experiences or through another person’s experience, is the most relatable way people can control their own destiny. Knowing that others have come before us to make today a reality is always a good starting point for motivating a team. Identifying the best story for the stakeholders does take some investigation but if done properly people will find it very relatable and repeatable.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Succinctly and as soon as possible.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

By understanding the most relevant historical experience that mirrors their own current challenges. There is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?


Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Having worked in an industry that has seen 30 years of constant innovation, I am always amazed at the number of start-ups America can produce. Start-ups either fail or they have some degree of mediocre or brilliant success. It takes a courageous leader to take an idea and scale it through fundraising and then steward the business. How that business scales to manage expectations of the principals, both employees and the investors, is a tricky balance and not for the faint hearted. I think this balance is where many companies, both small and large have trouble succeeding. They must both manage the expectations of the investors and the employees concurrently, which don’t line up perfectly from a timing perspective. Often in these scenarios it is the employees who feel the brunt of the imbalance whether through layoffs or through a change of direction that the company did not initially equip itself to service.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Do not hesitate. Making decisions in a timely manner is the key to learning and ultimately success. Customers are the genesis for the best ideas. “If your product did this” is often where product innovation comes from. Making sure the feedback loop from sales to product management is timely and clear will generate client delight and customer growth if managed properly.
  2. Leaders focus on opportunities not problems. Although problem solving prevents damage, opportunities produce results. When striving to implement the “squeaky wheel gets all the grease” concept, a company can focus on the wrong issues. Ensuring that there is a clear and market supported product roadmap will keep the right focus on future opportunities while addressing the “problems” en masse that a company may have.
  3. Cultivate and coordinate actions of others. Building team leadership through trust and transparency shows collaboration that inevitable will pollinate throughout the organization communicated properly
  4. Focus on what needs to be done, not what “I” want to do. Companies need a visible business and operational roadmap that is mutually agreed upon by all stakeholders. Models such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are a good way to ensure one department doesn’t hijack a company’s direction.
  5. Adapt and iterate quickly on solutions Customers often want their products quickly, cheaply and of the highest quality. But a company can only serve two of those three features. How to select those two based on initial strategy to customer feedback requires discipline internal and external expectations, especially in times of turbulence.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Know your history, know your destiny. In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.” — Bob Marley

There is nothing new under the sun. You just need to map current trends to previous trends and have the grit to get on with it. And with the incredible amount of resources, often free, that are at our fingertips, only a fool would sit still and not take advantage of the past.

How can our readers further follow your work?


Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

John Piccone Of Adform: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.