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The Art of Account Management: Why Context and Clarity Are Key for Nathan King

Advertising Agency
Rochester, USA
The Partners + Napier group account director discusses why being raised in a pastor household made him perfect for account management
Nathan King joined Partners + Napier as a group account director in late 2023, following stints at FCB New York and BBDO where he earned a reputation as a champion of great work who consistently offer POVs that invariably make it better. Along the way he has worked with such clients as Blue Cross Blue Shield, CVS Health, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and ExxonMobil.

Due to his global experience within the B2B and healthcare sectors, and the agency's recent success on the new business front, Nathan is currently applying his strategic rigor and insight-driven creative solutions to new and existing clients.

LBB> How did you first get involved in account management and what appealed to you about it? 

Nathan> Without even knowing it, I was raised to be in account management. I grew up in a pastor’s home so client (aka, parishioner) service was all around me from an early age. I watched my parents pour their hearts out day in and day out for the people who called our small, local church, “home.” They invested so much into the lives of others from hospital visits, organising community service events, planning mission trips, to facilitating weddings and funerals.

They did it out of love and calling, of course, but also because every organisation (even a church) thrives when others feel connected, cared for and supported. I now realise my parents were essentially acting as account leaders - shepherding the spiritual growth of others as I am now managing business growth for my clients. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all.

I left for college at the University of Florida (go Gators!) seeking a career where I could utilise the skills my parents instilled in me on a daily basis.

There, I was afforded an incredible opportunity to gain valuable, real-world agency experience through The Agency at UF (a communications agency embedded within the College of Journalism and Communications). Before even graduating, I had found a career that played directly into my passions. 

LBB> What is it about your personality, skills and experience that has made account management such a great fit?

Nathan> It was in the church/non-profit environment where I learned to be observant, solution-oriented and collaborative to support the needs of others. I learned to be scrappy and resourceful. You think some of our client budgets are small?! Try organising events in a small, rural church! Working with fellow volunteers, I had to truly lean into the strengths of those working alongside me.

I learned the importance of initiating dialogue with those I worked with to both understand and empathise with their priorities (even if they didn’t line up with my own). And I looked forward to celebrating wins when they came, even if they were small. These traits have obviously evolved in the agency environment, but they are still an integral part of who I am as a person and leader - and I believe a key reason I’ve found success in my field. 

LBB> What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting their career in account management?

Nathan> As an account leader, we are in constant communication with different people -- clients, creatives, producers, strategists – and oftentimes we are the only ones with the 10,000 foot view. The trick is knowing how to manage the flow of information to reduce swirl. I’ve come to realise that context is king (pun intended).

Who, what, when, where and why are not just facets of the true crime podcast you are binging - the answers to those questions are imperative to rally the teams around us to help effectively solve our client’s business problems. People crave information so they can work efficiently. But seeing the bigger picture is only half the equation. Conveying pertinent information clearly and concisely to your client and peers is the key that will unlock your future success. 

LBB> Thinking back to some of your most challenging experiences you’ve had in your career, what do you think tends to lie at the heart of the more tense or difficult client-agency relationships?

Nathan> Lack of communication. My grandpa used to ask me the question all the time, “Nathan, you know what happens when you assume, right?” And then would make me write the word out to make his point. “Assume = Ass + u + me.” I’ve never forgotten it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll slip up when I’m short on time and just need to get the email out. But one can never go wrong taking the extra minute to ensure extreme clarity with your client or peers. 

LBB> And what are the keys to building a productive and healthy relationship?

Nathan> We can so easily get trapped into thinking relationships at work are different than in our personal lives. And while partly true, there are several common denominators that must be present in ANY relationship. For me, the most important tenet of a healthy relationship is empathy - an understanding, respect and appreciation of the qualities and traits of our peers.

If we can move past transactional relationships in the workplace and instead work together as a cohesive unit bringing our passions together for a common purpose - we will not only be productive, but build relationships that can withstand stress that’s inherent to our day-to-day responsibilities. 

LBB> What’s your view on disagreement and emotion - is there a place for it and if not, why not? If so, why - and what does productive disagreement look like?

Nathan> Emotions matter. It is what separates humans from so many other living organisms. Even something as intelligent as AI hasn’t been able to truly replicate real, human emotion. Emotion always leads to action. Some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs were the result of an emotional response to a physical need. So, we should never discount the emotions that tend to bubble up when presented with something new, complex or even problematic.

If we can learn to control our emotions and correctly channel them to enhance the creative output, relationships or processes, then we have done something… human. And that is beautiful. 

LBB> Historically, account management has been characterised as the mediator in an adversarial client and creative relationship - what do you make of that characterisation, is there any nugget of truth in that or is it wildly inaccurate? 

Nathan> I will proudly wear the badge as ‘mediator’ between my clients and the other disciplines in my agency. Where I would disagree with the stated characterisation is why does it always have to be ‘adversarial?’ Our role should never have to choose sides. ‘Client vs. agency’ is a relationship doomed to fail.

Our job as effective account leaders is to identify and illuminate the often hidden barriers between contrasting expectations and priorities among the client and the agency team. This happens when we can truly embed ourselves into the business of our clients WHILE ALSO understanding the motivations of our agency team. Doing so allows us to bridge the gap between the two seemingly impossible divides and quell potential issues before they have a chance to develop.

LBB>These days, agencies do so much beyond traditional campaigns and as account management you’re pulling together creative, experience, data, e-commerce, social and more - and that complexity can often be mirrored on the client stakeholder side too? What’s the key to navigating (and helping the client navigate) that complexity?

Nathan> The speed of information is moving so quickly, it is truly impossible to keep up. I am smart enough to realise I cannot be all things to all people BUT neither can an entire discipline like account management. 

In order to be a true, collaborative partner to my clients, I am willing to say the three, often maligned words, “I don’t know,” quickly followed up with “but, let me find someone who does.” This is the beauty of being a part of a talented interdisciplinary team at P+N while also affiliated with other Project Worldwide agencies specialising in niche disciplines. Identifying the correct resource and facilitating discussions with our clients can be our superpower.

LBB> What recent projects are you proudest of and why? What was challenging about these projects from an account management perspective and how did you address those challenges? What was so satisfying about working on these projects?

Nathan> I’m proud of everything I’ve worked on! To me, it all boils down to the people I’ve worked with along the way. I’ve been extremely blessed to work alongside incredibly talented and passionate people - across agencies, client partners and volunteers from my local church.

Together, we have accomplished so much from educating and pushing transparency of clean energy, repositioning established brands in stagnant categories to help them stand out in the sea of sameness and now, at Partners + Napier, having the opportunity to work with up and coming challenger brands entrusting us to defy category norms to grow their business. This of course sometimes comes with challenges such as slashed budgets and tightened deadlines, all of which seemingly compound by the quarter.

But as an account leader, I am so proud of the team around me as we navigate those challenges together to continue to produce insight-driven, thumb-stopping, lead-generating work that leaves a mark.
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