Amazon Ads leader Piers Heaton-Armstrong was a small-business owner. Now he helps them grow.

Piers Heaton

October 16, 2023 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

This is My Best Advice, a series that asks advertising experts to share key learnings from their career journeys, the best advice they’ve ever received, and insights to help grow brands and businesses.

Piers Heaton-Armstrong, the vice president of advertising for Europe at Amazon Ads, has been fascinated with computers from an early age. When he was just 12 years old, he was coding his own games, which he’d handwrite on paper and send in to a computer magazine to get published. One of these was a diver game, where the player had to avoid jellyfish to get the treasure at the bottom of the ocean.

This ambition, curiosity, and enthusiasm have elevated him throughout his career. In the ’90s, Heaton-Armstrong taught himself HTML and built a website for the food company where he was working as a market researcher. That sparked an interest in learning how to promote the website, which led to him launching his own digital-marketing small business. He also founded his own restaurant-review website in London, which he supported financially through Amazon Associates, a program that helps content creators, publishers, and bloggers monetize their web traffic. Ten years later, in 2010, he joined Amazon to run that very same program.

Part of what has driven Heaton-Armstrong on his professional journey is confident, clear communication. This is the advice that has helped him along the way and what he shares with his own teams, including small businesses hoping to connect with bigger audiences.

Below, Heaton-Armstrong discusses his advice for leaders and young professionals, and how small-business owners can grow their reach and find success.

What is the best advice that you’ve given or received in your career?

Be really confident and clear in what you want—and don’t be afraid to ask for it. In any career, you can be overly reliant on your manager and think they might be looking out for you more than they actually are. So, you may find that opportunities pass you by without you even seeing them.

The advice I always give people is to keep an eye out for opportunities around you. And don’t be afraid to ask. Put your hand up and say, “Hey, I’d really like to do this.” People can sometimes be a bit hesitant to do that. They may think, “What if my boss says no? Is that going to be bad for my career?” But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. As a leader, I actively encourage people to tell me what they want. You should never assume your boss knows what you want: Be in control of your own destiny!

That’s great advice. Can you talk about a time you used this in your career?

There have been multiple times in my career when I’ve spotted these opportunities, and sometimes it’s worked out and sometimes it hasn’t. But I’ve always felt good about at least having the conversation. I’ve always been aware of the times I’m in a job where I feel like I’m not being challenged as much as I’d like to be.

I like to use the analogy that you should have one foot in your comfort zone and one foot out of your comfort zone. Whenever I’m not feeling challenged, I like to look around and think about what more I can be doing. When I was at a role previous to Amazon, I realized that the next step for me was running a global business. I spoke to my boss about that, and the deal was that I could do it, but I had to move from London to Seattle. I took the risk, and it worked out really well. I think you have to be prepared in life to make uncomfortable decisions—and that includes decisions about your own career.

So how can leaders empower their teams to make these bold steps?

You’ve got to have the right culture so people feel comfortable. That is something leaders create. I try to be very direct and down-to-earth. I encourage transparency throughout my organization, and I make myself available to anyone who wants to speak with me.

Having that culture is absolutely critical. What mechanisms can you put in place throughout your organization to ensure that you identify and create opportunities for individuals at all levels to get involved in projects and to lead initiatives that are not directly related to their day job but have a very positive impact on the organization? It’s very important to empower individuals to go above and beyond, and give them the confidence to have conversations about their next career step.

When we’re talking about clear communication and transparency and being courageous in speaking your mind, how can advertisers use this kind of thinking to reach audiences?

Being clear on what you’re trying to achieve is, first and foremost, very relevant to this whole conversation. As an advertiser, there are lots of different ways you can spend your marketing budget. You want to ensure that every single penny you spend is going to be effective. In order to do that, you have to be clear on who you’re trying to reach, you have to be clear on what it is you’re selling, you have to be clear on what the success metrics are. With advertising, you want to be showing ads to customers that are relevant to them, are useful to them, and look good. If you can do that in an honest and authentic way, you have a pretty good chance at success.

At Amazon Ads, we’ve invested a lot of resources to help advertisers do just that. Many businesses and sellers on Amazon need help marketing and advertising, as that’s not their core expertise. They could be great at building something but not great at selling it. That’s what I found when I built websites back in the ’90s. You could spend huge amounts of money and time creating a lovely-looking website, but if nobody comes to it, you’re wasting money. Amazon Ads has such an amazing tool kit for every kind of business—from small businesses to really big brands. We can help them with their creative, their messaging, reaching the right audiences, and of course understanding the impact of their marketing.

I’m glad you brought up small businesses again because you bring such a valuable perspective, given your background. What kind of advertising tools are proving to be successful right now for small and medium-sized businesses?

Over the many years I’ve been involved with small businesses, it’s been clear that until quite recently, it was really hard to create and run a really nice ad campaign for your product. It would be very complex to design and build the creative, and then get that ad in front of relevant audiences and measure results. I think that put off a lot of small businesses from leaning into advertising.

Programmatic advertising paved the way for small businesses to dip their toes into digital marketing. But even then, running a display ad campaign was difficult then. That has all changed now. So much of it can be automated. You just need something to sell. With Amazon Ads tools, you can be running ads in the Amazon store, and across relevant websites and apps. For small businesses, there’s never been a better time to think about how to use advertising to grow your business. You can do everything from Sponsored Products on Amazon all the way to Streaming TV campaigns, and of course on our very own livestreaming service that is so popular with Gen Z adults: Twitch. All of that is so accessible to every size and type of business. That’s a game changer.

I know you’re going to be speaking at a few exciting advertising events, including unBoxed, coming up. Can you share a little bit about what you’re looking forward to talking about?

Amazon Ads has a full range of products, from brand advertising opportunities through performance ads. We have such a great selection of live sports now in Europe with UEFA Champions League, the English Premier League, the French Open. With live sports, Streaming TV, Twitch, and more, when you put it all together, it’s a really strong set of properties that, from a brand advertising perspective, really resonates. You can run an ad within a football game and tie that into the impact it has on sales of your products on Amazon and across thousands of other websites and apps. When you underpin that with a really strong ad tech infrastructure, that enables our advertising customers to truly understand the impact of their campaigns, that really is what any marketer aspires to be able to do, and I love playing a part in helping them do just that.