At the beginning of March we sipped pink cocktails with friends from across the theatre industry as we all gathered together to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Chloé Nelkin Consulting.  Of course, a lot has changed in the last month, but over the last decade CNC has grown and adapted to an ever-changing arts landscape to become one of the most trusted PR and marketing firms in the UK.  Founder, Chloé Nelkin, joined us to reflect on the last ten years.

You’re celebrating ten years of Chloé Nelkin Consulting, Congratulations! How does it feel to reach this milestone?

It feels amazing.  A lot has changed since we celebrated at the start of March but it was a really special moment that I wanted to mark properly.  I’m very proud of having built CNC from scratch and I loved bringing together so many of our clients and journalist friends.  We’ve worked with many of the same people time and time again over the last 10 years and have built up a fantastic bond – we’ve been on such a journey with them.

For our readers who don’t work in the industry, how would you describe what a company like CNC does?

CNC is a full-service cross-arts agency.  In simpler terms that means we offer PR, marketing and consultancy to companies or individuals across the arts – whether that be theatre, visual arts, circus, opera or heritage.  If you operate under the arts umbrella, in whatever form, we are always interested in having a chat and hearing more about what you do.  We help companies publicise their projects so that people are aware of the amazing and diverse offerings in the arts.

How did CNC start out and what inspired you to start your own business?

I had always loved the arts and they were an important part of my upbringing.  I studied history of art at The Courtauld Institute of Art graduating with undergraduate and Masters degrees.  During my time there I chaired the East Wing Collection, a student-run biennial exhibition, and it was through this that my PR skills developed and I began to get a flavour for the industry.   We were putting so much work into the exhibition and creating something special and I wanted people to know about it.  I’d always known I wanted to work in art but the variety of my experience in different areas of the art world made me realise that PR excited me the most.  It ticked every box for me and ignited my love for communicating about culture.

Through the East Wing, I met TAG Fine Arts and worked with them on CNC’s first project.  This was the launchpad for the company and I’m still honoured that they took a risk on a new graduate.  I’ve always been a go-getter and enjoyed taking the helm but I hadn’t originally anticipated I’d run my own business.  When I launched CNC I was based at the kitchen table so there were minimal overheads and minimal risk.  If it didn’t work I’d have gone and got a job elsewhere.  But I was truly invested in the company and I’m thrilled to look back and see that was ten years ago and we’ve gone from strength to strength, working with clients across the world, across all disciplines.

What were some of the early challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

There have been many challenges along the way but I think overcoming them is important in growing a successful business. Because it’s my company, I’m emotionally involved in my work.  I believe in openness and honesty – a key ethos of CNC – and it’s challenging for me to accept that not everybody is the same. I find rude or untrustworthy behaviour very draining, whether it’s directed at me or my staff.

I think one of the biggest challenges early on was learning not to be so sensitive.  The adage ‘it’s not personal it’s business’ is true but, of course, it is personal because it’s my business and there’s a fine line which took a while to find.

I am also a workaholic and I do find it hard to switch off.  I love what I do and it’s easy to get swept along with it and work all the time.  After 10 years, I’m finally learning to juggle things a bit better.  I don’t know if any business owner can ever really switch off but I’m certainly getting better at finding time to relax.

How did those early challenges help set you up for success in the future?

Those challenges made me much more confident in my own abilities and what CNC has to offer.  Everyone in business knows the importance of finding your USP, especially in an over-saturated marketplace.  I set CNC apart by insisting on a personal approach and every email the company sends out is personal.  I founded the firm embracing old-fashioned values and this is still the way CNC work today.  We treat people with the same respect we all like to receive.  Everyone who works for me, prides themselves on honesty and good communication.  And, in a demanding arts industry, rather than compromise the company’s ethos, we only work on projects we love.

What’s been your proudest moment of the last ten years?

As I mentioned before, CNC started with me at the kitchen table.  Now, the team and I are based in the heart of Bloomsbury, a fully integrated company, offering marketing as well as PR services.  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 constantly change to meet these developments and the needs of our clients. I’m most proud of how far the company has come and what my team and I achieve.

As an industry we’re going through a tough time, how has CNC responded to it?

All of our clients have been affected – closing exhibitions, cancelling shows and stopping rehearsals.  It’s a tough time for us, as it is with many businesses in the arts and creative industries, big and small.  We’re supporting 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’re pioneering our #CNConnect each Friday on our social media platforms for artists to share messages of positivity and hope.  And we’re also running #TalkToUsTuesdays on our Insta Stories where we lend advice to anyone who wants to send in a question or concern.

We’re a tight-knit team at CNC and we remain positive: we have no doubt that the arts are going to come out of this fighting.

How have you been supporting your clients and what are they telling you about the situation they face?

CNC are supporting Hoopla Improv Theatre online classes credit Rebecca Need Menear
CNC are supporting Hoopla Improv Theatre online classes credit Rebecca Need Menear

We’ve checked in with all of our clients.  As trite as it sounds, we are all in this together and it’s as tough for us as it is for them.  We want them to know we’re here to support them even if we aren’t officially working with them at the moment.  We’ve been having Zoom chats with lots of clients just to discuss ideas, to look ahead to when this is all over and to help them brainstorm.  Everyone we’ve worked with is part of our extended CNC family and we’re always happy to chat.

Everyone is having a very different experience of the situation, often largely dictated by finances and what stage of development they were at, i.e. have they cancelled midway through a show or did they not have a show on stage when buildings started to close.  We’re finding it’s crucial to keep a dialogue open and help each other however we can.  Lots of our clients are launching amazing digital initiatives such as Hoopla’s online improv classes, All the Web’s a Stage on Shakespeare’s birthday and HighTide’s Lighthouse programme, to name just a few.

When we get through this, what are you looking forward to most about the next ten years of CNC?

Well primarily I’m just looking forward to getting through this as it’s not an easy time for anyone.  And then I’m looking forward to all the exciting projects we’ll be working on, continuing on the journey with so many of our existing clients and forging amazing new relationships with new clients – both big and small.  I wish I had a crystal ball to see what’s next but I love what we do and I have no doubt CNC has a lot of exciting times to come.

Main Image: Chloé Nelkin 10th anniversary – courtesy Sam Lan

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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