In preparation for her workshop at Debut Contemporary, Nadine Thompson, MD of the industry leading PR agency, Sutton PR, gives us her invaluable insight into crafting a great campaign as well as revealing her top downtime hang outs in London. With key advice on the pitfalls of PR and allowing us access to her personal collection, Nadine sheds light on living life in the PR fast lane.
Here’s the Q&A…
Tell us a bit about your background, how you first got into the industry, and how you ended up where you are now with Sutton PR.
When I did a History of Art degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art I had no idea what I’d do when I finished. After a few false starts I took an internship at the National Galleries in Wales, where I grew up, and they put me in their press office. It was a very interesting time for them with the discovery of a new Turner and some great exhibitions. I enjoyed learning about the projects in detail and then communicating these stories to the outside world and I decided that this was a good job for me. I then struggled to get a junior job in a museum or gallery in London so on the advice of the then Head of Press at Tate, who kindly responded to my speculative enquiry, I joined Bell Pottinger, a renowned PR agency where I gained fascinating corporate and crisis PR experience and learnt from some of the very best PRs. I then joined the Royal Academy press team to work on exhibitions including Sensation! and Monet in the 90s, amongst others, before moving on to Tate to help them with the opening of Tate Modern. It was such a great place to work that I stayed for ten years heading up their communications and marketing teams. In 2012 I joined Sutton PR which is one of the leading international PR agencies specialising in the visual arts and culture where I am Managing Director overseeing a team of 28.
You have headed some incredible and high profile campaigns in the arts world. Can you illustrate for us the importance of PR with some of your previous campaigns?
I feel very priviledged to have worked on the projects I have and with the artists, curators and directors I have. I’ve have also had the benefit of working with people who recognise the importance of PR and involved me fully from the beginning – which is crucial if you are going to make a success of a PR campaign. Good PR is about clear messaging and building interested and loyal audiences and these things are very important for artists.
We hear about the most outlandish of PR stunts and imagine you have probably experienced a fair few in your time. Care to tell us an stunt story of your own?
I believe in setting up strong photocalls but I’m not really a stunts person and I think art should, by and large, speak for itself. However, I have been helped – I’ve worked on a lot of big moments such as Marcus Harvey’s picture of Myra Hindley in Sensation, Olafur Eliason’s wonderful Weather Project for the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, and many spontaneous moments with the Turner Prize which were not orchestrated by me! I did once look into getting Michael Palin to ride an elephant down the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern but it didn’t work out!
What are the top Do’s & Dont’s when approaching journalists?
Do your research before you contact someone…does the publication have a suitable slot, what lead time do they need, do they cover stories such as yours, does the outlet have a particular agenda, does the journalist in question like or dislike similar things, have they covered something similar recently? Don’t send long emails or leave endless voicemails, don’t use arty jargon, make sure you have good material to back up your story – eg images, don’t oversell and don’t promise something you can’t deliver.
Do you have your own personal collection and which artists works do you aspire to own?
I do have some art at home. Working in the arts means I don’t have a huge budget to buy art but I have bought some great prints over the years, mostly from organisations like Tate or the RA. When I left the Royal Academy they gave me a wonderful Norman Ackroyd and when I left Tate they got me an Ian Davenport print. Friends such as Ian, Jock McFayden and Martin Marloney have also been very generous too.
Where is your favourite hang out spot in London?
It’s far too hard to choose just one place but my newest favourite place is The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy which Sutton PR has just promoted. It’s a wonderful new space with a café, lounge, cocktail bar, courtyard garden and restaurant alongside the Royal Academy. The rooms are hung with works by Royal Academicians and students in the RA schools. The interiors are by David Chipperfield, the catering by Oliver Peyton and the garden designed by Tom Stuart Smith. I love it. You have to be an RA Friend to use the space between 10 – 4pm (but given you and a guest also get in free to all exhibitions for a year it’s very good value) and then it’s open to anyone after 4pm until midnight most nights. Being able to relax and socialise in such a creative space after seeing a great exhibition is perfect.
To find out more about Debut Academy click here