A Conversation with NJI’s Founders

Nathan Imperiale and Josh Shultz share lessons learned over 15 years of successful agency ownership

Tamrah Chalom

Category: Leadership

09.21.2023

NJI CEOs and Founders Nathan Imperiale and Josh Shultz recently joined the InspiredInsider podcast, hosted by Dr. Jeremy Weisz, to share their story and the strategies they’ve used to build an international agency serving a unique niche in public affairs communications strategy. 

Here are the top takeaways from their conversation:

  • Hire good humans who are enjoyable to work with.
  • Make sure the work you give your employees is exciting enough to keep them going. 
  • Trust and continuous communication are the backbone of successful leadership.
  • Lean into your expertise, especially when it brings unexpected opportunities.
  • The best partnerships often start on a small scale.

Hire good humans who are enjoyable to work with.

NJI started as a small team of exceptional colleagues. From day one, Imperiale and Shultz focused on building a diverse team of individuals who are not only talented, but good people. “We want to hire people who are a good fit for our family. When you enjoy working alongside people you genuinely care about, the rest naturally falls into place,” says Shultz. 

A thorough interview process ensures that new employees will complement the team. “Nathan and I let others ask the typical questions. Instead, we ask questions to see how others think and if we connect,” says Shultz. “For example, if you woke up one morning and there was an elephant in your backyard, what would you do?” Often, the responses reveal useful traits, such as an adventurous spirit or a knack for project management.

Culture fit is just as important for clients and vendors, the founders say, and they are thoughtful and intentional about working with partners. 

Make sure the work you give your employees is exciting enough to keep them going. 

Keeping a progressive, young team engaged and excited is paramount to the agency’s success. Imperiale and Shultz have made it a mission to provide employees with work that is rewarding, challenging, and exciting to showcase to potential new hires.

Trust and continuous communication are the backbone of successful leadership.

Imperiale and Shultz have operated as co-leaders from NJI’s first day. Collaborating on big decisions and sharing honest feedback have fostered thoughtful decision-making and, in turn, better outcomes. By leaning into their individual strengths and embracing their accountability to each other, the two successfully co-lead a global agency.

Lean into your expertise, especially when it brings unexpected opportunities. 

Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, NJI opened a London office in 2020 and a Singapore office in 2021. The expansion highlighted that the agency’s specialty — creative strategy for the public policy realm — is even more unique on a global scale. The founders say their political backgrounds and deep understanding of government operations made them a natural fit for the European market and beyond. 

The expansion reflects the fact that many large corporations and trade groups deal with policy issues on an international scale. When an existing client offered NJI a budget to establish a presence in London, Imperiale and Shultz decided to take the leap and put resources on the ground. NJI worked quickly to find a space, hire team members, and navigate the complexities of international law, from financial regulations to data security policies. 

“It was no easy haul. Without our finance and operations teams, and the infrastructure we had in place already, it would have been insurmountable,” says Imperiale. That said, he adds, “going international is the best decision we ever made.”

The best partnerships often start on a small scale.

Meta is the perfect example of an ongoing partnership that began on a small scale. NJI’s first project was to review public policy collateral from more than 65 Meta offices around the world. They had amazing content but lacked a strong, cohesive brand to bring it all together. The agency’s solutions brought a creative edge to Meta’s work, and the partnership snowballed from there. From global economic reports to message localization, NJI has since become the agency that ties a bow on Meta’s public policy work. 

NJI followed a similar path with the National Beer Wholesalers Association. NBWA initially asked NJI to develop a creative digital strategy to reach policymakers and the media. Fifteen years later, the agency continues to provide them with evolving services. Similarly, a partnership with Intuit began with relationships Shultz and Imperiale had developed on Capitol Hill. Over time, the portfolio of services expanded as NJI built a repository of creative that helped policymakers understand Intuit’s importance.   

Delivering exceptional service for smaller projects inevitably leads to more work, the founders say. “That’s how we built our business: brick by brick,” Shultz says.

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