Getting To Know Kate Nettenstrom, Our New Head of Client Services
The Client Services department at Walker Sands is vital to the success of our clients and agency teams. The group of account managers and project managers empowers our expert teams to deliver first-class work that meets the needs of our clients, and works closely with clients on goals and strategy. It’s the group that keeps clients happy, keeps our teams motivated and on track, and ensures we deliver on our promise of great work.
I’m excited to share that Kate Nettenstrom is now leading the group as our Senior Vice President, Client Services. Over her nine-year tenure at Walker Sands, Kate has played a pivotal role in achieving several agency milestones, including helping to lead the growth of our Seattle office and being one of the first members of the Client Services team when the department was established. She was recently elevated to Vice President, Client Services thanks to her knack for navigating complex situations, serving as a thought partner to her clients’ marketing leadership teams, and building bridges across the agency.
I recently asked Kate to share more about her new role, her vision for the Client Services department, and marketing trends for our clients as we look ahead to 2024.
Tell us about your journey at Walker Sands and how you’ve evolved into your new role as Head of Client Services.
I joined Walker Sands as a media relations specialist on the PR team after graduating from journalism school. I wanted to do PR because I loved the news and always had a student-like mentality. I had an internship at another B2B agency before joining Walker Sands and fell in love with B2B PR because I loved the challenge of trying to relate the very technical, complex topics aligned to my clients’ expertise to what was actually going to interest reporters. It’s not easy work, but I was always attracted to demystifying the very complex things that our clients did.
I was at the Walker Sands Chicago office for a few years and then moved out to Seattle in 2017. While I was there, I had the opportunity to work with Annie Gudorf, our managing director, Seattle, to grow our Seattle team, establish our agency presence and build a community in the Pacific Northwest. It was exciting to try to bring the Walker Sands culture to a new geo, and then adapt it to the vibe of the actual place and the type of people we were bringing in to work in Seattle.
I joined the Client Services team in 2019 when we created the department because I wanted to become a more well-rounded marketer and build closer relationships with our clients. I was also excited by the opportunity to improve account operations and how we serviced our most complex engagements. Since then, I’ve come back to Chicago and became a Vice President before being elevated to SVP and taking over the department this year.
What excites you most about leading the Client Services department and continuing to partner with our B2B clients?
I love that we have the opportunity to work with every service line in the business and be the glue that holds programs together. The Client Services team has a unique position at Walker Sands to truly be agency cheerleaders and figure out what the right mix of people and services is to help our clients achieve their goals. We’re very flexible, we have a ton of visibility in the agency, and I think that’s always a really fun part about the job.
Building long-term trust in client relationships and teaching others to do the same is also really rewarding. We obviously don’t have a business without our clients, so when we can demonstrate our value to them, get them to trust us and ultimately become invaluable members of their marketing team, it’s the biggest win from both a department and agency standpoint. In my time at Walker Sands, our best work has always come from our strongest client partnerships built on trust, open communication and a good amount of fun.
I also love finding ways to make our accounts run smoother and make our services teams shine. We’re constantly thinking about what friction and obstacles we can remove to make sure our teams are presenting their best work for the client and delivering a final product that they’re really proud of. Sometimes that’s by doing small things like figuring out a new way to set up Trello or structuring an agenda for a client. Other times, it’s workshopping a teammate’s voiceover and hyping them up before an important call. Sometimes it may seem tactical or logistical, but it’s always with the intention to make sure we are smarter, stronger and more effective for our clients and ultimately deliver work that everyone is happy about.
What strategies do you employ to ensure seamless collaboration and integration among the various service teams at Walker Sands for client success?
I like encouraging people to not just copy and paste systems that work on one account to others. Every account team is different and every client is different, so it’s important that people align their communication styles and the way they run their engagements with what a particular client or account team needs. Being flexible is important, and we’re seeing that as we integrate with KoMarketing. Not everything in our playbook is going to make sense for every team, so we’re adapting our go-to processes to make smoother what we can and keep in place what’s already working well.
Adding fun and personality to the job can also make things a lot smoother. Part of our job involves encouraging our teams to do things differently if it will be better for the client and pushing the work to be better every single time we deliver it. If people don’t know anything about you as a person, that could rub them the wrong way. But if they know who you are and know that you bring positive energy to the team and that you’re just there to make everything shine, then that does a lot of good. For example, there’s a senior account manager on our team, and for every internal check-in, he has a question of the week that gets his services teams talking to each other and getting to know each other on a personal level. I think that pays dividends in the long run because it builds trust and makes people look forward to connecting rather than seeing that touchpoint as just another meeting to go to.
What has been one of the most memorable projects or campaigns you’ve worked on at Walker Sands?
The commercetools Naysayer campaign is kind of hard to beat. It was a unique project in how it tied all of our services together for one big moment for a client on a larger scale. We also had an amazing client partner in that work who trusted our expertise and our vision. It was unbelievably collaborative — we became part of their marketing team and were invested in the success of that campaign and making an impact on their business. Selfishly, it was also incredibly fun because I had been working with commerce technology clients throughout my career at Walker Sands, and commercetools is one of the most innovative companies in the space. To finally work with them and put all the industry knowledge I’ve gained since I was a media relations specialist was incredibly satisfying.
Plus we got to work with Will Arnett, which was really cool.
As we head into the end of the year, what are clients prioritizing in their 2024 marketing plans? Are you seeing any trends in terms of their areas of focus or objectives?
This year was a tough one for tech companies, which has made marketing teams have to make hard decisions about where they want to invest their time and money. As we’re seeing those decisions shake out, a lot of brands are having to consider where they’re positioned in the market, their messaging, what they know about their target audience and if they need to shake up their approach. With that in mind, I’m seeing a lot of marketing research and marketing strategy come to the forefront as marketers look to evaluate their brand and marketing mix holistically and make informed pivots as they plan for 2024.
Our clients are also looking to make the most of the budget they have and get creative with how they lean on agency partners for support. Rather than running a typical playbook, we’re working backward from our clients’ marketing and business objectives to continually evolve our programs and services mix to optimize for those results.
Congratulations to Kate on her well-deserved elevation. I look forward to watching her continue to make an impact on the Client Services department, her teams and the agency as a whole in her new role.