Where Are They Now – The Power of Networking with David Knapp
The Power of Networking: From Nickerson Intern to Head of Digital B2B Customer Growth Marketing at American Express
David Knapp understands the power of networking. As the current founding partner of RiseOUT and former Head of Digital B2B Customer Growth Marketing at American Express, David has led a uniquely successful career in digital marketing that can partially be attributed to his eye for opportunity no matter the position. The first stop along the way was his internship with Nickerson in 2004, right during the start of the company. He has since traversed industries with roles in merchandising, marketing, retail brand strategy, and more — all the while holding various leadership positions.
During his time at Nickerson, David focused on event management, public relations, and copywriting, while also learning the power of networking. He fondly remembers supporting the drafting of Pembroke Real Estate advertisements and the hustle of event management. His time at the company was a learning experience in navigating ambiguity and having the opportunity to work with a company who was ahead of the curve on trends, technology, and operations.
“My time at Nickerson working under Lisa inspired me — she is a visionary. She instilled a hustle mindset in me that I apply to my leadership style now. Everyone on my team, including myself, gives 100% to every project we take on.”
Co-Founding RiseOUT to Impact the Next Generation of Gay Business Leaders
David’s passion and professional expertise is also applied to RiseOUT, an organization he co-founded with two other business partners, whose mission is to connect and create role models for the next generation of gay business leaders. Through networking events, panels, and leadership programs, RiseOUT helps to elevate young gay professionals in a corporate world that is often lacking in representation.
Outside of work, David embodies community engagement and philanthropy. As an intern, he was encouraged by Lisa Nickerson to participate in fundraising for the Jimmy Fund Walk. This helped to light a spark of interest and passion for exercise-based philanthropy. David has been involved in several AIDS Walks and successfully completed four 300-mile bike rides for HIV through Cycle for the Cause, garnering over $20,000 in total to raise funds and awareness for the fight to end AIDS.
We sat down with David to find out, “Where is he now?”
Q: Throughout your professional journey, what have you found have been the key steps to a successful career in digital marketing?
From Startups to Fortune 500
“After I graduated, I went to Minneapolis, where I joined the merchandising team at Target. From there, I used skills I had acquired during my time at Nickerson to make my way through different departments, landing on an elite team in the marketing department as a brand leader under the CMO. Eventually, I knew I wanted to come back east, so my now-husband and I moved to New York, where I found a role at a brand strategy consulting agency.
While completing my MBA at NYU, I pivoted and started my own retail strategy consulting company, which allowed me to be intentional about who I worked with. I always made sure to stay connected to previous employers, colleagues, and mentors — a networking tip that I recalled from my time as an intern with Nickerson.
Throughout it all, I’ve learned to listen to the customer — I had the confidence to be curious and ask questions. This mindset led me to situations where my perspective was heard and valued, and my ideas were brought to life. For example, I coined the tagline “Confidently Beautiful” for a line of hair dryers by Miss Universe sold at ULTA Beauty. My small idea was so valued and appreciated by senior leadership that it led to a complete makeover of the entire brand across all channels and became a rallying cry for a global women’s empowerment movement.
Flash forward to my American Express marketing career. I first met someone from AMEX at a Reaching Out MBA conference in New Orleans. I applied to several positions over time and eventually secured a role that involved digital marketing, which, at the time, was completely new to me. I had experience in PR and events through Nickerson, operations and marketing, and brand strategy, but this was new. So, I dove in! I stitched together insight from experts to help build our strategy and planned a summit featuring many senior executives to draw attendance and boost collaboration across the enterprise.”
David recently stepped into a new role as Head of Marketing Personalization and Small Business Banking at Wells Fargo, where he is building a team focused on delivering business growth through personalized marketing.
Q: As a leader, how do you motivate your team, and what are some key characteristics of a great leader?
What makes a leader?
“I would say that the fundamentals of my leadership style lie in collaboration and transparency. When you have junior talent, they need care and leadership — and maybe a little handholding, so it’s not always sustainable to be a pacesetter. Nobody learns that way. Instead of criticizing, you have to remember why you’re in that role. You can’t be a leader without working with people — the business is speaking and listening, and you have to communicate.
Especially in a fast-paced marketing agency setting and in my American Express marketing career, I’ve learned that when you’re trying to choke the results out of something, people can’t breathe. When they can’t breathe, they can’t think. And when they can’t think, the results of their work are hindered.”
Knowing when to loosen the reins
“So, I took a step back, I loosened the reins, and other people stepped up. We worked hard as a team to avoid burnout by sharing shut–down rituals and leaning into a novel, flexible work model. The office is not a prison, and I’m not a warden. Different people work differently, so for the most part, it doesn’t matter to me where you work from, as long as you’re producing results.
Through this learning process, I created guidelines that empowered my team to deliver their best work. In fact, my approach resulted in the team going into the office the most. We had zero resignations five years in a row and celebrated 15 promotions within two years. I gave my team a clear vision for how they could succeed and empowered them with the tools to do so. For example, I offered regular resume workshops during which we discussed how to communicate and execute upon skills gained in their digital marketing careers.”
“You can’t be a leader without working with people — the business is speaking and listening, and you have to communicate.”
Q: What career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
”Be curious to understand the context of what you are walking into and humble enough to realize why things are done the way they are. Come to meetings, pay attention, participate, and bring your unique perspective, but understand that you may not always have the complete experience, knowledge, or history.
Pay attention! Don’t just sit in the meeting; bring your perspective. Even if you have less experience or knowledge, you bring a unique perspective to everything you do and that is extremely valuable.
Lastly, make sure you work on projects where the senior leadership is investing their time and money; otherwise, your department and role are not a priority of the company.”
Q: What was the biggest takeaway from your time at Nickerson?
Be Forward Thinking
“My time at Nickerson working under Lisa inspired me — she is a visionary. She was ahead of the work-from-home trend and understood the importance of a flexible work model. She was early to recognize the power of technology, hopping on the LinkedIn bandwagon before anyone else that I knew and using it to her and the company’s advantage.
She instilled a hustle mindset in me that I apply to my leadership style now. Everyone on my team, including myself, gives 100% to every project we take on. This applies to the relationships made at work and professional functions, too. She mentors young professionals to amplify their own reputation, from simply encouraging them to speak with colleagues at events to traveling for conferences. She emphasizes keeping in touch and managing relationships for mutual benefit.”
TeamRed: We elevate the experiential journey!
We had such a great time reconnecting with David and introducing him to the newest generation of rising Nickerson team members who spearheaded this interview. It is always illuminating to look back and reflect on early career experiences and what’s been carried forward. Learned skills like confidence, leadership, and curiosity have stuck with David from his internship at Nickerson and have woven their way into his leadership style and professional mindset. His insight on team management, career advice, and personal passions left us all inspired and excited. Nickerson is grateful to claim David as a former #TeamRed member, and we look forward to keeping up with one another through the power of networking.