How Nick Scarpino Went From Cashier to VP of Marketing and PR for Portillo's

Nick Scarpino is the vice president of marketing and public relations at Portillo's, based in Chicago. A month after we taped this interview, Nick was named to Adweek's "20 Rising Brand Stars Who Are Helping Make Chicago a Hub for Marketing, Tech and Culture."

You built the Portillos marketing team from scratch, can you speak to how you were able to build a successful team? What have you learned during the process?
NS: As the first marketing employee at Portillos, a legendary Chicago brand, I think the success that we've had as a team has been because of two things. Number one was when I came into the business as the only person who was officially tasked with doing marketing, I had to really take an approach where I rolled up my sleeves and actually did what it took to get projects accomplished. No task was too big or too small for me to take on myself. The next half of it was actually having a vision for what should we do in the next five years, the next ten years, and how do we empower a team to embrace that vision and get things done. 

What does entrepreneurial spirit mean?
NS: To me, having the spirit of an entrepreneur is really doing what it takes to get the job done. Sometimes there's no one to delegate to, you have to do the work yourself and so having the attitude and willingness to do what it takes, that's truly what it means to be an entrepreneur.

You came from Google, what did you learn working at Google that has helped you in your position at Portillo’s?
NS: Google is a great place, filled with plenty of resources and support. What I really learned at Google was the importance of teamwork and communication. It's really all about setting forth a vision and then rallying people around and making that vision come true. I've taken that attitude and that experience from Google and really tried to put that into what we do at Portillo’s. 

What does it look like to go from something that has lots of resources and support, such as Google, to a place where you do have to "roll up your sleeves?"
NS: Leaving Google was a tough decision but really came down to two things. Portillo’s is a legendary brand in Chicago, and to be part of taking the brand to the next level and growing outside of the Chicagoland area was really attractive to me. Number two, I'm just a marketing guy. I love marketing and I love being the first ever leader of marketing at Portillo’s. It’s a brand that I love and where I actually as a cashier when I was 17 years old. 

Since you mentioned you love marketing, what are marketing tips/insight can you share?
NS: Number one, never underestimate the power of having a physical location, the power of signage and the things that you can do within your location to attract business. Many people dismiss the benefit of a really good sign that says “We're Open.”

Then there’s social media. It's a wonderful place to project a message and to actually tell people about things, but first and foremost, it is a great place to listen. Look at social media as a platform to get feedback before stepping into projecting out messages. 

Why is low tech equally important, if not more so, than high tech/digital?
NS: It's really popular for marketers and people (who have positions like me) to get obsessed with the newest technology and platform. And if we are going to do that, we'd still be talking about Myspace and other platforms that aren't here anymore. Instead of chasing the next platform and always trying to do what's really innovative at the time, it's much more important to take a step back and pick at least just one place where your customers are and do it really well. Communicate in two ways. Listen and talk to them before you go out and get on the newest craze or platform. Start with one and see if that can work first. 

What role does social media play in your line of work?
NS: Social media isn't everything. It’s one piece of a bigger puzzle. I recommend brands just getting started or ones trying to figure out their marketing strategy, consider social media as one factor of a broader marketing equation. 

What predictions do you have for where marketing is going?
NS: Something I'm really excited about is the emergence of assistance (Google homes and things like that). I'm really curious to see how those platforms evolve into a customer's everyday lives. Will we still be going to our favorite search engine and looking things up, or will Google and Amazon be able to predict what I might be thinking about before I'm even thinking about it? As marketers it can be really important to help shape things happening there. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?
NS: I would say, continue to follow brands that you are really passionate about. For me it was Portillo’s. I was a cashier when I was 17 years old, and I followed Portillo’s throughout the years. I was kind of in the right time at the right place back in 2015 when Portillo’s was looking to expand. I was working at Google in Chicago and I reached out to the ownership group of Portillo’s and said ‘hey here's who I am and here's what I do, maybe we could form a partnership or do something together.’ Low and behold, now I'm the head of marketing at Portillo’s. Continue to be follow brands [you want to work with] and reaching out. Brands are run by people. Keep in contact with people and good things will come. 

The video portion of this interview appeared on on August 2, 2017: At 17, This Entrepreneur Worked the Cash Registers. Now, He's a Vice President of the Same Company.