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R/GA's Nik Karlsson: Each Day Is an Opportunity to Be a Better Marketer

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
The group account director on his 'non-linear' career, working with R/GA and the value of kindness in business

“Be open, ask questions, and be kind to the people who are helping you,” says Nik Karlsson, group account director, client services R/GA San Francisco about the best approach to new challenges and work opportunities.

Q> What was your path to where you are today?

Nik> I have not had the most linear career path. I moved to LA from NY in the early 2000s to pursue a dream of becoming a talent agent. Following stints at a variety of agency and management companies, where I had the opportunity to work with world-class talent like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Kanye West, I realised the entertainment industry wasn’t for me. After that, I got into the sports marketing game, negotiating sponsorship deals and PR opportunities for NFL and MLB athletes before transitioning into a corporate role with Hilton to manage their relationship with the US Olympic Committee. I led the design and activation of the hospitality centre at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

I then found myself at a crossroads: Do I move back east or try and find another job in LA? Electronic Arts made that decision easy when they offered me a contract to support the launch campaign of one of their upcoming video game releases. It was with EA that I found a love for brand marketing. Being able to create and execute content consumed by millions of fans was, honestly, very thrilling and I couldn’t believe it was my job. I had a blast leading brand strategy and go-to-market plans for seven years in the games industry for a number of franchises, but I was ready for a new challenge.

I decided to take a risk, leaving behind more than a decade of client-side marketing to join R/GA as an Account Director in the San Francisco office, grow client the partnerships and diversify the office’s account portfolio. 

Q> What do you find exciting in your current role/client work?

Nik> What is great about R/GA is that no two days are the same. I chose to pursue an agency-side role to learn a whole new industry: How do agencies operate? What does the creative process look like from the inside? How do industries differ in their approach to marketing? Now, I am working with some of the best and brightest people in the world, both across R/GA’s network and with our partners at Airbnb, and Slack. We continuously push each other to innovate. 

With R/GA I’ve had the chance to support Airbnb in shaping the future of hospitality, shift the way people communicate in the workplace from email to Slack, and develop the first Spartan-inspired Alexa skill for Ubisoft. Each day I’m discovering ways to be a better marketer.

Q> What career advice do you give others?

Nik> Be kind. Everyone should be treated well and deserves the level of respect and care we give our clients. Whether it’s the people who bring us exciting briefs, the leaders who position us for success, the team members who contribute to the great work we do, or the support system that allows us to do our best work. We’re at our best when we work as a team and people are often more motivated when they feel respected and acknowledged. Whatever the circumstances, do your best to be kind.

Q> What was one of your biggest growth moments?

Nik> I believe that any time you take a new role or challenge is a moment of growth. When I first joined R/GA, I remember in my first week getting briefed on a new web page for our biggest client. As a reminder, I had never worked in an agency before and knew next to nothing about web development projects. I remember thinking: “I have bitten off more than I can chew and I’m going to fail.” But that’s what excites me about the opportunity to work for R/GA—to learn something new. I approached it as I have tried to do in all other roles in my career: be open, ask questions, and be kind to the people who are helping you. Eventually, I started to figure things out, and by the end of my first year, I was playing an active role in growing and shaping our business.

Q> Do you have any passion projects outside of work?

Nik> Photography is my biggest artistic outlet outside of work. I became a dad in 2011 and started snapping photos of our son with a DSLR camera. By the time my wife and I had our second son in 2013, carrying a camera everywhere became a habit. I love taking pictures of faces (both people and pets) and try to get some shots in as often as I can. My two boys are not fazed anymore when I am directing them to pose for pictures. Other than photography, I try to remain active. Whether it’s lifting or paddling out for a surf, I get up every day at 5 am to sneak in a workout before the family wakes up.

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