Alumni in Profile: Chloe Nelkin
Chris Craig (BA 2008) Gallery Manager at Galerie B.Weil in conversation with PR professional, Chloé Nelkin (BA 2009, MA 2010). Learn about how you can juggle an MA whilst establishing your very own arts PR company.
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to reveal this but you actually started your PR company whilst you were still completing your Masters at The Courtauld. You began by working with small galleries and artists. How did your time at The Courtauld help in these early stages?
It’s no secret that I enjoy crazy multi-tasking and so, yes, you’re right; I did indeed set up Chloé Nelkin Consulting (CNC) in March 2010 during my Masters degree at The Courtauld – I specialised in 18th century British and French drawing with David Solkin and Katie Scott. It was a rather mad thing to try to do while undergoing such an intense process of study and I’m not sure everyone thought it was a great idea but I’ve always believed it’s important to seize the moment and it was the right time for me to take the plunge into the world of business. I started CNC with the ethos that everyone within the company should come from an academic background so having an art history degree from the best place in the world stood me in good stead. The Courtauld pushes everyone to their limits, ensuring they produce the best work possible and I have very much carried this into what I do – I’m a perfectionist anyway but proper research and highly articulate writing is so important to everything we turn out. I would never have dared hand in sloppy work during my time at The Courtauld and that same principle stays with me today.
During my time at The Courtauld, I was involved in running East Wing Collection VIII. Through this I really did gain experience of everything – I had to write artist contracts, arrange sponsorship, organise security and insurance, and arrange events for anything from 15 to 2,000 people. I’ve always been a big believer in the importance of networking and good manners and those are two of the things that make me successful in what I do today. East Wing was an amazing networking tool for me and I was able to make the connections with some of the top gallerists and artists working in London at that time. It was through East Wing that I met CNC’s first client.
Really, who was that?
That was TAG Fine Arts where I worked with alumna Diana Ewer and Hobby Limon on Rob Ryan’s solo exhibition in Dover Street. Although we don’t currently work with TAG, Diana and Hobby remain close friends and their support was so valuable to me.
As the company has grown you have emerged as one of the leading theatre PR companies in London as well continuing to represent arts institutions, can you describe this transition?
If I’m honest this wasn’t what I planned when I started CNC but, excitingly, the transition really propelled us forwards. At the end of 2011, CNC were invited to tender for a major arts festival in London. At the time, we nearly didn’t take this contract because it was very theatre orientated. But, the more that I heard the keener I became. Through taking the risk and taking the contract for The VAULT Festival my love for theatre and opera really came to the fore and I decided it was time for my business to branch out. Having a focus across all art forms ensures the work stays exciting and refreshing. It’s important to me that both sides of the business work with a range of various sized companies; our theatre projects range from tiny Fringe venues, pop-up experiences to huge West End shows.
What are the differences between working with a gallery and a theatre group?
The differences in dealing with individual clients are quite subtle really. There are more coverage opportunities for the performing arts due to the wealth of smaller but wonderful websites that have been established. Theatre clients generally seek coverage to help sell tickets to shows while the majority of our art projects are about profiling. The attitudes within these two industries are very different and, as a result, their expectations and behaviour can vary drastically.
I come from a gallery background and there is lots of competition for visibility in the marketplace whether it be for exhibition openings or for attention at an art fair. What advice would you give anyone looking for a footing?
It’s so important for there to be a USP in both worlds. If it’s just another exhibition of an artist’s work that we’ve seen before or a revival of a play that’s already been staged this year then it’s hard to get the press excited. We always have to find what’s different or unique about a specific project. Why should a journalist want to write about this project and why should the public, in turn, want to come to see it? Storytelling is at the heart of PR so we have to have enough information to create a story to differentiate our client from the crowd and ensure that the right media outlets pick up that story.
Picking up on that last comment it seems obvious when you say it but most people probably have a very clear idea of where they want coverage even when another platform might be better suited to them. To what extent has the transition from traditional media and press to digital platforms and social media affected what you do?
Digital is increasingly important as print media struggles more and more in today’s technology-dominated world. Recently The New Day only lasted for a couple of months and The Independent closed down – becoming a smaller online-only outlet. Online versions of newspapers can often receive far higher readerships and the proliferation of blogs is enormous. Social media is very good for our clients to show their personality and develop their brand identity.
Yes, I often see companies using Twitter for a behind-the-scenes, more personal connection. I remember helping you with your blog when you first started it and you were a very early adopter of Twitter and now Instagram. How do you think it has helped develop your brand?
Yes, definitely. As you say, we’re primarily very active on Twitter and Instagram. Sadly, I no longer write my blog due to time constraints but have been able to work across these other platforms. I think both Twitter and Instagram have helped to develop the public-facing side of CNC. On Instagram we focus on culture across the capital and our feed is all about London’s buildings, sometimes well-known sites but often small venues that we happen across. On Twitter, we talk about all our current clients as well as injecting some personality into the feed with live tweeting of events and photographs from #champagnefriday in the office – I think my love of bubbles grew during my time at The Courtauld.
Beyond the ever-changing litany of social media platforms, what challenges do you foresee for theatres and galleries alike in making a name for themselves in the future?
As with every market there is always a problem of over-saturation and this is very true in the arts, on all sides of our business. A PR must know their client inside out and believe in what they do to sell in a story that grabs a journalist’s attention. At the end of the day, if we don’t feel passionately about our clients, how can we expect anyone else to? I don’t think there’s an easy-fix to the issue of saturating the market but if you love what you do then the chances of making a success are far higher.
Finally, The Courtauld is itself an institution competing in the highly crowded global cultural environment. What memories of your time at The Courtauld would you package up and share with the world if you had to sell its merits?
My favourite memory is probably being accepted onto the MA course as I’d always wanted to study with David Solkin – taking his masters was a challenge but a dream come true. David doesn’t believe in making things easy but that made the course so much more rewarding in the end. I don’t think there is a better place to study than The Courtauld and the opportunities it afforded me are invaluable. Being taught by the best specialists in the world with like-minded individuals in such wonderful settings, with The Courtauld Gallery just under the arches, is unsurpassable. And the best thing is that The Courtauld stays with you with ‘the family’ extending across the globe. It’s a very special institution that offers something quite unique. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. In fact, I still get involved with The Courtauld whenever possible as I want to be able to give something back and carry on working with this institution that gave me so much.