In a special two-part series, Cultural Comms co-founders Charlotte Heath Bullock and Nina Plowman reflect on the year almost gone, and share their highs, lows and proudest moments from the past 12 months, as well as the lessons that will shape the agency’s - and the industry’s - path in 2024.

In part one of the series, Charlotte discusses the joys of running Cultural Comms - despite complex economic uncertainties; the strength of the CC leadership team and the role it plays in the company’s success; and why a visit to the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum during TEFAF Maastricht is something she'll never forget (plus a look ahead to how she’ll be celebrating the end of a very busy year at Cultural Comms). 

Read on for more...

A review of the year

“Every year the rollercoaster that is Cultural Comms has bigger highs and ever greater obstacles to navigate. 

We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it and, 13 years since we started out, I still look forward to every day and continue to get a thrill from seeing our clients in the press. 

I can confidently say that I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much without my brilliant work wife and co-founder, Nina Plowman.  She’s the best wing(wo)man I could ask for and, even in the face of adversity, we’ve managed to laugh and power our way through.  

“If we thought that Covid and Brexit were the biggest threats we could face as a small business, we hadn’t anticipated the economic fall out from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the uncertain economic climate in which we are now operating.  High inflation has put pressure on wage bills, but client budgets for the most part have remained static.  If we want to attract and retain the best staff we have to both reward them and create a culture in which they can thrive.  As a small agency of 15 staff, we always strive to be creative in how we recognise our team’s contribution to our success.    

“An example of this is, post-pandemic, giving all our team annual membership of a cultural institution of their choice.  This both supports the cultural sector in which we are heavily invested and enables our team to immerse themselves in enriching exhibitions and cultural experiences, which - this year - have included Chanel at the V&A, Dogs in Art at the Wallace Collection, Marina Abramovic at the RA and Frans Hals at the National Gallery.  

“My faith in the current government’s support for SMEs has been severely tested.  The hike in corporation tax from 19% to 25% for businesses with profits over £250k has been sobering and reduced our appetite for investment.  That said, I don’t yet have confidence that a Labour government will be any better for businesses such as ours.  SMEs may be the backbone of the British economy, but we are also the “squeezed middle” of the business community.  The higher our tax burden, the less we give via charity and philanthropy.  In a world where private sector support is needed more than ever, this is an uncomfortable situation.”

Personal and professional highlights

There have been many highlights this year - on a professional level it’s been hiring a brilliant senior management team of whom I am constantly in awe.  Headland Group’s Neil Hedges gave me the best business advice; he told me to “hire people better than yourself”.  I can confidently say most people at Cultural Comms are far better than I am at this game!    

“In other highlights, we’ve won some fantastic new clients, and it is testament to our roster that our team regularly cite how proud they are of the clients they represent and how, as a small agency, we punch well above our weight in that regard. 

Winning a global brief from Chivas Bros was a proud moment, as was convincing The Arts Club that we were the right partner to help them with their cultural positioning.  We’re rightly proud of the longevity of our client partnerships and this year we marked 13 years of working with American Express, which speaks volumes about our standards of client servicing.  

“On the personal side of things, seeing the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum was akin to a religious experience and one I will never forget.  I was en route to set up the press office for TEFAF Maastricht at 4am as they released more tickets and was lucky enough to secure some.  It was flawless in its curation and a glorious send off for Gregor Weber, the museum’s outgoing head of Fine and Decorative Arts.  

2023’s proudest achievement

I’ve always loved working on art fairs and have been lucky to work with the best over the years.  The thrill I get onsite when it all comes together is fantastic and demonstrates teamwork at its best.  I am proud that Cultural Comms coordinates the global PR for TEFAF, widely acknowledged to be the world’s greatest fair presenting 7,000 years of art history from ancient to contemporary.  There are few events that give me quite such a buzz. 

I’m also hugely proud of adding The Arts Club to our client list this year and I’m enjoying spending time there and immersing myself in its cultural programme.    

Learnings that will shape Cultural Comms in 2024

  I plan to be kinder to myself in 2024.  Cultural Comms is such a big part of my life, but running a business is not for the faint hearted.  It’s relentlessly hard work and I find it very challenging to switch off.  With a young child, elderly parents, an ongoing building project and two house moves planned for 2024, I have to carve out time for myself and my family to ensure I get the down time I need both for my own sanity and for that of my colleagues!    

A Christmas well spent

As always I’ll be celebrating amongst family and good friends.  Experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my son is a glorious mix of chaos and joy.  Away from the excitement of the big day, I love riding my horse on cold Christmas afternoons when the winter sun is starting to fade, the lights in the village houses are warm and inviting, and the deer and pheasants come out to feed in the fields.  It’s rare that anyone else is around and it’s the most peaceful and beautiful time when all is quiet and the world feels like it is standing still.   

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