By Folake Soetan
VENTURES AFRICA – On a recent trip to Nigeria, Claudine Moore, award-winning founder of C.Moore Media, an international Public Relations agency, sat down with Ventures Woman to share a bit about her life and work. Claudine’s extraordinary background and aptitude for seizing opportunities have propelled her to the top of her field, having been hosted by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at his home which has housed famous political figures like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Claudine was invited to the Prime Minister’s house after being named among the top 100 most influential Britons on the 2010 Black Power List, an award she considers special since it was given over a decade after moving to the United States. According to Claudine, “to be recognised for something by your home even after being away for so long… that was really special”. With her non-traditional yet deeply personal connections to Africa, hers is an interesting story.
Hi Claudine! Thank you for being here today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you are doing in Nigeria?
Thank you very much for inviting me to be interviewed! I was born and raised in United Kingdom but my parents are from the Caribbean (Barbados and Jamaica). So even though the Nigerian Press has said I am American, I’m not (laughing). I moved to the US about 12 years ago, in 1999. So I’ve got the whole Caribbean, US, UK, African thing going on which in my mind means I’ve got the best of all worlds. I was educated in the UK, my first University was South Bank University where I studied Social Sciences and after that I wanted to study Psychotherapy. I was always very good with people and a good communicator so I thought that meant I needed be a therapist so I went to Regents College where I did a postgraduate diploma in Psychotherapy. I then went to Durham University for a Masters in Psychotherapy and Counselling and after that I worked for a little bit in London before deciding that that was a good time to move to the US. Interestingly I didn’t have a job in the US and I wasn’t moving to go to school so it was quite daunting. I didn’t have any infrastructure around me in terms of job or a network of people but what I did have was my grandparents who had moved there from Barbados many years ago and I stayed with them for the first 6 months. And after about 6 months of being there I got my very first job which was working with McCann Erickson, a global advertising agency.
I started off being the US coordinator of PR and business development and after about 4 or 5 months, they promoted me to international Manager of PR and Business development. I was there for about three and a half years. I’d actually wanted to have my own PR Company so I launched it in 2003. I worked with lots of different brands on sponsorship activation and PR and some of them were big brands while some were small start-ups. I did that for a couple of years but then I just felt like I needed to learn a bit more. I felt like though I had the desire and the motivation, I did not have the right skill set to grow the business the way that I wanted to.
Then I worked with different ad agencies and brands and the last firm I worked for was the international PR agency called Hill and Knowlton. I was their regional director for the US in charge of Marketing, Media Relations and Business Development and that’s where I was till 2009. That was actually my favourite ever job, I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much working with them! They are one of the top three agencies in the world so you’re learning not only how to run a PR business but also how to work with global brands from the very best teachers. I got laid off from there in 2009 during the big recession so my whole department got cut. But a couple of clients I worked with were like if you’re leaving we’re coming with you, so I thought, well, now is a good time to re-launch C.Moore Media and the rest is history in terms of my company.
What part of your life connects you with Africa?
In terms of my connection with Africa, I’ve always identified strongly with Africa because my parents always taught us that it does not matter whether you’re West Indian, British or Caribbean, if you’re black you’re African full stop, no questions. (We like that!) So I’ve always identified strongly with the continent and I’ve always desired to work and extend the expertise and knowledge that I had towards its development. But I had to wait for the right time when the expertise and services I had to offer would be beneficial. So as I launched C.Moore Media and gathered experience working with different brands and received recognition from different awards in the US and UK, I thought now’s the time. So last year I was invited by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations to be their keynote speaker and after the speech several organisations approached me about working with them. Our first client has been Arik Air and we do their international PR for them.
Fantastic! So what inspired you to start your own company?
I haven’t got one definitive reason as to why. However moving to America, everyone is so entrepreneurial, especially in New York, everyone has their job and something else they were doing. I found that people used to come to me for PR Advice all the time and whenever I left a position, brands from an organisation would come to me directly and say we’d like to work with you. So what started off as me being a consultant expanded into a company and that grew. We are still growing it, we’re still small though we have a strong reach spanning the US, UK and West Africa. But we’re still a small company and that’s one of the benefits of working with us because when you work with big global firms, they bring in the big talent and expertise to pitch the proposal and get the business but those who execute it are much more junior staff. It’s one thing to get the VP or SVP to bring the strategy together but if you’ve got a junior assistant doing all the execution, it’s not going to work.
I think a lot of brands and organisations today are much more careful about how they spend their money. They want to make sure that what they spend on the campaign is giving the best value for their money. So I saw that the niche was that a lot of brands and organisations want global talent working on their accounts because they need it in this global economy yet because they are conservative in their spending they would shy away from companies that charge hundreds or thousands of dollars a year if not a month. So we are very competitive, in that the person that pitches the proposal to you is the person that works on the account and we bring in other people to work on accounts as needed. We have a good network of consultants including myself. For example if we have a public affairs project that requires a lot of proprietary research that we need to do, we have research partners that conduct it for us because we don’t have a research unit. So yes, we have a good network of partners that work with us.
You have been described as having expertise in media strategy, corporate communications and strategic positioning. When you have a potential client, what do you do?
My position requires a lot of listening, that’s key in PR, you have to listen. We first find out who our clients are and what they need and what their challenges are. We need to find out where they are in their business and where they want to be. We also find out what kind of clients they are, are they adventurous or do they want to play it safe? Some brands are still very social media shy but that’s like working in the dark ages! So you have to sometimes encourage and persuade them to use social media. So once you’ve discovered what their objectives and communications challenges are, we then discuss what type of strategy they are looking for. Are they looking to incorporate events or social media, change their corporate messaging, mission statement or values? Are they looking to expand their reach and do communications in the US or UK or other regions? We get a good inventory of what they’re needs are we then go away and develop a PR strategy proposal. So our first meeting is all about listening. We then develop a strategy. As a company, we approach PR as telling a story. Every brand and organisation has a story to tell and it’s like a mosaic so within every brand you have different storytellers.
Your customers are your storytellers, your employees and even ex-employees are storytellers! You want to ensure that as a brand you are adding to and plugged into that conversation. Every brand has a story, even not having a story is a story…why don’t you have one? We work to find it. With an existing client such as Arik Air, we give them our thoughts on how to tell their story with different types of media. So, for example, different types of magazines may receive the same story but with different emphases for their different audiences. Sometimes you may have difficult situations with clients such as a crisis which needs to be dealt with. In these times, you need to engage in crisis communication in a timely way.
Very interesting work! You studied psychotherapy and changed to communications, how did you make the transition?
That’s actually a funny story. When I finished my studies in Psychotherapy, my main focus was on finding a job in psychotherapy and I search hard. After moving to the US, I started temporary work, the first of which was in the communications department of an ad agency. My initial one month contract stretched to three and I found that I was really enjoying the work! So I decided before my contract was over to speak with one of the company leaders, a woman I respected immensely. I asked her for 15 minutes of her time and when we met I told her I wanted to go into PR. Her response shocked me completely. She told me with abosolute seriousness and great emphasis, that I would never make it in PR, that she simply did not believe that I had what it took. Her conviction about my inability shocked me but I remember deciding that I would do just that, and pursued it. I ended up with a fantastic role in McCann Erickson and today, this woman is fully aware of what I do.
Would you say there are certain personality traits or talents you possess that have helped you in this field? Or as a business woman?
Yes definitely. Be a good networker, networking is key in PR and in business. I am very good at keeping in touch with people, following up on contacts and such. Making it a priority matters. You also need to be humble and know everyone has something to offer. I don’t believe that because someone is junior they don’t have idea or can’t contribute. And really sometimes, it’s not about talent, it’s simply about buckling down and doing even those things you don’t want to do, those parts of the work that you don’t really enjoy.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Yes! Certainly I had my father who always encouraged us to push forward and never let anyone tell you you can’t. In fact, he emphasised it so much that ‘can’t’ is not even a word in my vocabulary. So I strongly believe that anything you put your mind to, you can do. An old boss of mine at McCann Erickson is still today a trusted mentor and friend even though I left the company so many years ago. The truth is we’ve all had helping hands along the way and I believe mentoring is something that everyone who has succeeded has to do, reach back and help others who are coming along. In fact, I haven’t ever told anyone this before, so Ventures Africa is getting this first, what I want to start doing on my visits to Nigeria is to go to local high schools and speak to young girls about using education to help develop and elevate themselves and families. I’ve already done this a few times in the UK and would love to start that here. I tell young people, I failed my A-levels the first time and it was so hard getting my results because everyone kept asking what I was doing next year. While my friends were all going off to university and I had to be humble and say I was repeating the exams. The second time around I did the courses I actually wanted not the ones I felt I should do and I did much better. So failure is not a bad thing, we just need to learn how to use it. And when my friends hear what I’m doing now, they are not surprised because I’ve always had the dream of working in Africa.
So what is success to you?
I believe it simply means being happy, being happy in whatever you do. For some it may be money or status or other things, but once you’re happy, I believe you’ve succeeded.
In a previous interview when talking about how companies require PR even during the recession you said “you don’t ever want to be too hard to find, and when you are found you should have a compelling story to tell”. What do you think that means for entrepreneurs who almost always start off with small one-man businesses?
It relates very much, it’s about how you brand your company and even yourself. It’s very important that depending on the business that you’re in to be good at what you do, and if you’re good, you’ll speak about it with passion. Don’t promote yourself as something if you are not qualified to provide that service, it’s all about your reputation. Have the right presence. Think very carefully about what it is that you do and how you talk about what you do. You want to make sure your message is very clear and consistent. Be known to customers or even within your industry using trade publications, trade events and professional associations.
I’ve heard that some of the most successful men in business get no more than 5 (maybe even 4) hours of sleep each night. How much sleep do you get as a busy person? Do you think there is an amount of sleep that is too little/too much?
(Laughing) that’s about right! On average I get about four or five hours of sleep at night and of course it varies. If I have a project that needs to be delivered, I may only get 2 hours, but you just have to be ready to do the work. I do make up for it though, particularly on the weekends. Sunday is my rest day, I go to church in the mornings and spend my afternoon relaxing, either sleeping or visiting family. So I don’t think there’s a right or wrong amount of sleep, you just have to do what works. (So do you drink coffee to stay awake?!) Actually no, I drink lots of water and try to eat healthy and exercise so coffee is not a regular thing for me.
Along the same lines, one of the most important questions for women is about balancing roles in life. How do you balance the many roles you have as a daughter, sister, partner and boss?
That’s a great question and honestly I haven’t gotten it down yet, keeping a balance is one of the toughest challenges. I try to look at each relationship and role and give it the amount of time it deserves. It’s definitely something I’m still working out.
You’ve been fantastic Claudine! Any final words of advice for entrepreneurs on the rise?
Always enjoy what you do and if you genuinely enjoy it you will be good at it. Have faith and believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people who are more successful than you, smarter than you and better than you. That way you will keep on learning. When there’s a challenge, feel the fear and do it anyway.
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is undoubtedly a quote we’ll be hearing more of in the future because it accurately describes the life of an entrepreneur! Many thanks to Claudine Moore and her team for the excellent work they have done so far and their efforts to improve the brand that is Nigeria by being good at what they do. We look forward to more success stories from C.Moore Media.
***We commiserate with all the families who lost loved ones on the Dana Air crash on June 3, 2012. Many bright, young women were lost and Ventures Woman mourns them. Rest in Peace.