BWW Interview: PR Chloé Nelkin Discusses Her Company's Journey and the Shutdown
Chloé Nelkin is the founder of Chloé Nelkin Consulting (CNC), a PR and marketing firm specialising in the arts. Their work ranges from West End shows to the VAULT and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, as well as heritage clients like the National Trust, circus stars, and classical music venues like Opera Holland Park.
Nelkin talks to BroadwayWorld about her route into the arts and shares advice for surviving the shutdown.
What was the first piece of theatre you saw that really inspired you?
I can't pinpoint it to a specific piece, but I have lots of fond memories of visiting the theatre and it was a very important part of growing up. Like so many young children, I longed to be a ballet dancer after seeing The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House, but, while I loved wearing my pink tutu, it was never meant to be - I clomped around like a fairy elephant.
I was blown away by everything I saw at the theatre, from Sooty and Starlight Express to A Midsummer Night's Dream, where I got drenched at the Open Air Theatre. I was spellbound by the snake in The Magic Flute - my first opera.
Can you tell us a bit about your route into the arts world, and why PR particularly interested you?
I studied art history at The Courtauld and stayed on for my Masters, specialising in 18th-century British and French drawings. While such specialist knowledge isn't necessarily useful for my day-to-day work, having an academic training that taught me rigorous writing and research skills is invaluable.
While at The Courtauld, I was involved in the East Wing Collection where I began to teach myself PR. I had a huge passion for the arts and PR brought together all my skills and my true love for communicating with other people about culture. Through the East Wing, I met TAG Fine Arts and worked with them to manage an exhibition of Rob Ryan papercuts - CNC's first project.
That was ten years ago, and I'm thrilled that CNC has gone from strength to strength, working with highly prestigious art fairs and heritage organisations, London's must-see cultural attractions, large-scale arts festivals, theatre from West End shows to small-scale pieces staged by new writers at the start of their careers, and the Edinburgh Fringe.
Your company handles multiple disciplines, including art and heritage, classical music and circus clients, as well as theatre. Was that always the intention?
At the beginning, I intended just to focus on visual arts, following my studies, but I found that to be quite limiting. I had always been passionate about theatre and opera - I'm a singer myself - and so when we were offered the opportunity to work on the very first VAULT Festival it made perfect sense to me that we became a cross-arts agency. All the disciplines do require different skills and approaches, but they are also all linked and come together in wonderfully unexpected ways.
What are some of your proudest moments from 10 years of CNC?
CNC started at the kitchen table. No office. Just me. We are now based in the heart of Bloomsbury, housed inside a beautiful listed church. Things change over time, and there's no denying the industry and the media landscape has changed a lot in the last ten years. As we continue to grow, we strive to meet these developments. We're now a fully integrated company, offering marketing as well as PR services. We're constantly changing to meet the needs of our clients. Nothing stays static in this world for very long. My proudest moment really is the point the company has got to and what my team and I achieve.
Our work is incredibly varied and we love its diversity. There is never a dull day in the CNC office: it can range from the Prime Minister using one of our landmark venues to make a speech, staging a photo call with a giant ship on the Thames when the wind is not on your side, or installing monumental sculptures across London, to attending first nights and press interviews or visiting international art fairs.
And some of the biggest challenges?
There are no guarantees with PR and sometimes you don't achieve the press you hope for, no matter how hard you work. While we're very clear with our clients and never make them promises as that wouldn't be honest, it can still be disappointing if, for example, a major story enters the news cycle and dominates the media. We truly love the projects we work on and are committed to getting them as much exposure as possible, and it can be heartbreaking for us when that doesn't happen.
We're obviously in unprecedented times right now. What sort of impact does the shutdown have on a company like yours? Have the Government's plans helped you at all?
It's pretty nightmarish, but we're just fighting through like so many people in the arts. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will allow me to carry on paying my team even when we have no income, so that is a huge help for me and means I can protect jobs and CNC as we move forwards.
How is CNC responding to the crisis?
It's a tough time for us, as it is with many businesses in the arts and creative industries. All of our clients, whether big or small, have been affected and have had to close exhibitions, cancel shows that have only been open a few days and stop rehearsals.
At CNC, we're a really tight-knit team and are determined to stay positive, as I have no doubt that the arts are going to come out of this fighting. We're continuing to support our clients in any way possible, whether promoting their digital work or just being on hand to discuss options.
In our own small way, we've also been pioneering #CNConnect on Fridays where we've asked artists to record messages of positivity and hope, which we're sharing on our social media platforms. And on Tuesdays, we're running #TalkToUsTuesdays on our Insta Stories, where we ask questions and lend advice to anyone who wants to send in a question or concern.
What do you think is the long-term effect on the industry? How would you like the Government to support the arts, and what can the general public do to help?
One of the things I love about the arts is the power of the people involved, and it's their positivity and hope which is already galvanising others. When the crisis ends, we will be closer as an arts community than ever before - better placed to work together, to help each other and to produce amazing arts projects that the world will be eager to receive.
Many theatres, including those we work with, are asking the public to consider donating their tickets rather than having a full refund. Of course, not everyone is able to do this, but for those who can even the smallest contribution can offer major help. This is an unprecedented situation for any government and they continue to roll out new initiatives all the time to support not just the arts, but all the amazing businesses in the UK.
What's inspired you so far about the arts industry's response to the crisis?
A diverse range of people in the arts have already started such extraordinary initiatives and digital platforms that it's impossible not to feel hopeful and inspired. Many organisations are already championing amazing ideas - whether sharing their back catalogues on social media, streaming performances or commissioning new works. No one is sitting back doing nothing, and it is this which I think is so vital in these troubled times.
It's often said that laughter is the best medicine, and one of our clients, Hoopla, the UK's first improv theatre, are injecting comedy into the current crisis with online improv classes for those on lockdown. So many people are using online platforms to connect and Hoopla have created online drop-in sessions, bringing improvisation to your living-room-turned-home-office. Hoopla was founded with the idea of bringing people together through improv and, at a time of social distancing, it's more important than ever, for your mental health, to maintain interaction and stay connected.
Do you have any advice for companies or artists who are struggling right now?
This won't last forever! It's hard right now and many feel they are living a nightmare, unable to find a way out, but it will end and the arts will come out stronger.
I know it's very easy to say 'think positive', but I do think it's essential. We find ourselves in such strange and troubling times and it's easy to get absorbed in negativity. Don't get bogged down by the bad stuff. Try to be a part of the conversation, even in just a small way on social media and, crucially, remember you are not alone!
Finally, to leave us on a cheery note, can you share a favourite funny memory from your time at CNC?
Every year, we go on a CNC trip overnight where we can let our hair down and have some fun - team bonding in our way. One of our first trips saw us head to Hastings for the famous Pirate Day. We were all dressed as pink pirates and looked fabulous (even if I do say so myself), but the weather was not on our side. It absolutely poured and all the pirate day activities were cancelled, meaning we were practically the only pirates in Hastings! We certainly got a lot of strange looks as we were blown around town from pub to pub...
Photo credits: Sam Lan, Scott Rylander, Tom Shannon, Pedro Greig, Unai Garcia