Spotlight on Katie King
Updated: Jun 18
Here at Spotlight, we had the opportunity to chat with Katie King, CEO Of Katie King & Co. She spoke to us about how she learnt from the challenges she has overcome and gave some great advice for those starting out in their career.
A background into you and your business?
Katie King & Co. is a global creative content and strategic marketing agency that opened at the beginning of 2021. Whilst based in the UK’s East Midlands, the agency operates remotely and serves clients from all over the world.
Prior to Katie King & Co. I was living in the Middle East and heading up the marketing departments of some of Dubai’s most iconic and luxurious hotels. I’d built a strong reputation for my skills and strategic thinking and I was headhunted to open the world-famous Queen Elizabeth 2 as a floating hotel in Dubai in 2018.
When COVID first hit, I decided to fly back and spend the lock-down back at home in Nottingham. I was here for four months (the longest I’d been home in 10 years) and it was during this time (and a very nice summer) that I made the decision to relocate back to the UK.
The Big Idea
I’ve always thought that opening my own marketing agency (or boutique hotel) was a natural progression from the position that I was in, so the idea has always been there.
But what prompted me to think strategically and realistically about it was when I came back to the UK for the long summer in 2020. I spent a lot of time around friends, family and neighbours – many of whom had businesses. They were doing amazing things for their products and services – but they weren’t telling anyone about it. Most didn’t even know where to start with Facebook or Instagram, they had all these email addresses of clients and weren’t doing anything with it and I just saw that there was a gap in the market. These small businesses couldn’t afford to pay big agency fees and they didn’t have the time/resources to learn how to handle marketing themselves and that’s where I thought I could add some meaningful value.
One of the biggest challenges that I ever faced in my career was when I was unfortunate enough to have taken a position working with a leader who was extremely toxic. I worked very closely with them in a small team and every day I was either mocked, humiliated or reduced to tears was a difficult time and it made me question my abilities, my choice of career and even some of my personal attributes and started to spill over into my personal life.
I resigned after six months, deciding that my mental health and wellbeing was more important than this prestigious position. Within a month of leaving that company, I was headhunted for an amazing position so, within eight weeks of leaving that environment, at the age of 28, I became the Director of Marketing for a cluster of hotels.
My advice to anybody currently facing an extremely toxic working environment is to address it with your superior and be strong yet approachable about it. You are a professional who has been hired to conduct your duties and just because the person you report to is your superior, it does not give them the right to treat you this way. I’ve since faced similar situations – even very recently. But I am now able to spot the signs of toxicity in a corporate culture and I steer very clear.
Drive and Determination
I’ve always been extremely driven and that is apparent in some of the work that I’ve done and the direction in which I took my career. I always wanted my projects to be the best, biggest, most impactful, highest or lowest statistics possible or whatever it is that would set us apart. I hate to lose a marketing opportunity for myself, for my clients and previously for my employers and I always like to feel that I have over-delivered. In marketing - impressing other people is important to me – it is the nature of what marketing is, and it’s served me well.
An initiative that’s important to me is supporting others and sharing my knowledge – specifically marketing graduates, small businesses and young entrepreneurs. I do this through my work on Instagram - giving free bite-sized strategic advice and step-by-step guides for marketing their business and for personal branding for success. I also sit on The Sounding Board Charity – a non-profit charity organisation that supports young entrepreneurs with mentorship and funding. I’m the Regional Leader for Young Enterprise Alumni and a guest lecturer at Leeds Beckett University – both roles allow me to share my knowledge with the next generation, in the same way that knowledge was shared with me by the generation before.
The biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way
The biggest lesson that I have learnt (and learnt early on thankfully) is that everybody is replaceable. Once you learn that you can be replaced, you become less arrogant, less complacent and more innovative.
I also learnt that you should seek support and professional advice from others. You cannot be an expert in everything and if you want to be the best – surround yourself with those who are the best in their field.
The first thing that I did when the idea of opening my business started to materialise was to connect with those members of my network that were leaders in their field and that I had had a previously good relationship with. They form a sort of ‘executive board’ of KK&Co. mentors – mostly marketeers, comms and creative people – and I had good solid advice from them at each step of the way.
Three tips you would give to those starting their careers
PR yourself and network. Make LinkedIn your favourite channel, develop a strong personal brand and highlight your successes to the world.
Your chosen career does not have to be a lifetime commitment. We live in the 2000s and not the 1900’s - just because you thought you wanted to be a (insert profession here) and went and studied for it does not mean that you have to commit to it for life. If it doesn’t make you happy, drive you or stimulate you now, it’s probably not going to in the future. A pay rise, a promotion, or a different company is not going to make it better. Do something that makes you happy – but do not use this as an excuse to float through life – actually find something.
Choose interest over money. Do something that interests and stimulates you rather than something that simply makes lots of money because I’ve done this and I can assure you it’s counter-productive. You just spend all that money trying to do things that bring you short-term happiness.
Advice to people who are wanting to start a business
Before you even purchase the domain name... plan! Go through the A-Z of the business plan and then the marketing plan. For me, opening a business without a plan is like taking a road trip without a map or destination in mind. Also, don’t feel that you can’t deviate from the plan. Whilst it’s good to have a destination in mind and a route to follow - sometimes things change. You might add another stop on the route, spend a longer or shorter time in one place or change the destination completely... but at least you start with the end in mind. The plan for Katie King & Co. has changed considerably since the planning stage but without a plan, it would never have got off to such a good start.
Another piece of advice is to apply the principles of organisational best practice into your business - even if it’s a one-man-band. I made it my number one goal to run KK&Co. with the level of professionalism that I would run an in-house marketing department. All internal documents are branded, consistent and error-free, there’s a marketing and PR calendar in place, personalised corporate gifting for media and clients and so on.
Advice do you have for people aiming for leadership positions
My advice to those aiming to be a leader is to make sure that you’re first worthy of being a leader and that you want to lead for the right reasons.
Leaders come in all forms - they aren’t just the corporate executives of big organisations. Personally, I find managing a huge team doesn’t reward me as much as leading smaller, more interpersonal teams. But, remember that being a leader is tough - it’s like being the head of a big household - responsible for everyone in it.
Advice be to those managing a team
My advice for those people that manage a team is to remember that your team can be the making or breaking of you and how you treat them will have a big impact on your department or company’s performance, your reputation and your ability to weather a corporate storm.
We all know what an impact our managers can have on our lives and I find that creating a nurturing environment and one in which my employees feel that they are supported, developed, empowered and have room to learn without fear of failure increases my department’s overall productivity entirely.
I’ve always taken very good care of my team and I’ve protected them in every way I can - at times in some highly toxic environments. I’m paid to take the wrap for their mistakes and I take it - it’s my department and if something went out that was wrong, that’s my mistake and I’ll deal with the consequences. In return, I’ve built a strong team that has followed me for the past six years to each of my leadership roles. Even today one of them is a consultant to KK&Co. I’ve received the highest form of loyalty from them and they have covered for me, they’ve defended me in my absence and they’ve worked by my side for 30-hour shifts voluntarily. They even invited me to their weddings.
What do you attribute to your success?
I don’t think that I can contribute one thing to my success, but here are things that I do that I know have had a positive impact on the opportunities that I have been exposed to.
I only speak English but I speak a thousand other languages in business. My job is highly interpersonal and collaborative and talking in marketing language to non-marketing people isn’t going to work. Finance teams don’t care about Instagram followers – they care about ROI. HR isn’t interested in how much more opportunity we can get for the company – they are interested in employee survey scores; local suppliers don’t care that you have 2500 followers online – they care that you’ve got 800 of the local mums right on their doorstep following you and would like to work with you.
I have built a network and I have nurtured it. I’ve proactively and reactively helped when asked – even if it brings no benefit to me and I’ve gone out of my way to assist others in times of need. It has been this network that has allowed me to, so seamlessly and successfully transition from the corporate world to business ownership life and without them, it would not have been this way.
I am a marketing expert and that isn’t a status that I take for granted. If I stopped training, keeping on top of trends, and ceased to engage in personal and professional development – in 12 months’ time I would be a ‘former’ marketing expert. I guess a lot of my success comes from consistently developing myself both personally and professionally.
I have a lot of exciting plans for the business in the future. In addition to business and client development initiatives, I’ll be moving into more of an educational role with a series of projects lined up.
Thank you so much Katie for sharing your inspiring story with us. If you would like to keep up to date with Katie be sure to connect with her on LinkedIn and follow Katie King & Co on Twitter and Instagram. To read more blogs like this, click here.