Nova’s Adam Johnson on marketers as boardroom’s ‘strategic, creative problem solvers’ and overcoming adversity at Nokia

“I learned much more about resilience and leadership in that period [when the iPhone launched] than I did when Nokia was riding high.”

When the iPhone launched in 2007, Adam Johnson – now Nova Entertainment’s chief growth officer – was a year into his eight year stint working as a marketer at Nokia. It was a harsh wake-up call.

“In terms of working in adversity, you’ve got this incredible brand but a substandard product in a market where the whole industry has shifted on its axis,” he said, speaking on The Growth Distillery vodcast.

“I learned much more about resilience and leadership in that period than I did when Nokia was riding high.”

It’s a lesson Johnson has held onto throughout his career, telling Mediaweek that marketers should feel proud about the role they play in wider businesses. His own marketing roles have “really opened my eyes to the impact that marketing can have on a business and day-to-day sales numbers.”

“I really worry about the notion that the marketers in the boardroom can only be there if you become the chief commercial officer or the CFO. There is a role for strategic, creative thinking and problem-solving at all levels of the business,” Johnson said.

The CEO and the board don’t want you to be the CFO because they’ve got one of those. They want you to be the strategic, creative problem solver who’s building demand for whatever product or service is it that you sell. Be proud about that and use that to your advantage.”

Dan Krigstein, Adam Johnson

Host Dan Krigstein and Adam Johnson

This is critically important in the current marketing landscape, with Johnson pointing out that the role of a marketer has changed so much, and senior marketing leaders are often expected to be all things to all people. 

“We’re data scientists as much as creative experts, brand strategists, and everything in between. You have to really remind yourself to be authentic, given that you’re expected to be so many different people, depending on the situation that you’re in.”

The vodcast series – hosted by News Corp Australia’s director of the Growth Intelligence Centre and independent think tank The Growth Distillery, Dan Krigstein – explores what it means to be a good leader. “It’s as difficult to be a good mentee as it is to be a good mentor,” Johnsons said. He told Mediaweek that the best mentors are people who have learned how to be mentees.

The best mentoring relationships I’ve had have been when there’s a live problem or project to work on together. I’m a bit of a fixer – I love building and fixing things, and therefore I do struggle a little bit with what can be the slightly navel-gazing approach of chatting about stuff. 

“I really like it when you go, ‘I’ve got this challenge, you, as a mentor, have lived experience in this area or adjacent to it. How can you help guide me through that?’”

Johnson has a long history with vodcast partner The Marketing Academy; he was the first person to be both a scholar and a fellow of the organisation. He said he jumped at the chance to appear as a guest to help pay it forward.

“I was really intrigued by the subject matter that was initially pitched, this notion of the masks that we wear. Also, I’m a Growth Distillery listener, so it’s nice to go on to a vodcast that you listen to.”

Top Image: Adam Johnson

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