THIS WEEK, ORA-ORA SPEAKS WITH CATHERINE MCCLELLAND FROM SUTTON PR ON THE FUTURE OF COMMUNICATIONS.
Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung as Henrietta
Catherine McClelland as Catherine
Henrietta: I am so blessed to have Ms. Catherine McClelland as my guest today. Welcome.
Catherine: Thank you so much. Thank you, Henrietta. It’s great to join you on the Ora-Ora Live today. It’s fantastic.
Henrietta: Let’s talk about you a little bit more. Catherine, we know that you are the President of Sutton Asia. You basically came to Hong Kong from London to start up the shop.
Catherine: I came out in 2013 to help launch Art Basel here in Hong Kong. I moved here properly in 2014, so I’ve been here the last 6 years leading the Sutton Hong Kong Office.
Henrietta: This is a wonderful adventure for you.
Henrietta: Before we get into that, I want to understand a bit more about your background and what communications is like in the art world.
Henrietta: I read from your bio that you actually graduated from one of the top colleges that many Hong Kong people aspire to attend. You took a degree in Cambridge. What degree was that?
Catherine: I studied History of Arts at Cambridge, so we focused on art, architecture, wrote a lot of essays, did a lot of studying.
Henrietta: Did you get into communications right after graduation?
Catherine: No, I knew that I loved the arts and wanted to stay in the arts field, but I was not sure what that might look like. So, after graduating back in 2007, I was thinking where could I go from here and how can I could break into the arts scene. I did an MA focusing on Museum Studies, which communications was a big part of. I started working in museums instead of doing different things in London, and just really enjoyed the communications side of things, like reaching out to people, promoting the arts, making connections. I sort of realised that was the thing I enjoyed most.
Henrietta: For us as gallerists and for a lot of professionals in the art world, we understand clearly how important communications is for artists, institutions, or galleries to thrive. But for a lot of our viewers, especially younger people, who probably have no idea what communications entails, can you explain a little bit about it in the context of the art world?
Catherine: Yeah, for sure. I was the same when I started out, I didn’t really know what it was. When I got my first job in communications, I still wasn’t too sure.
Henrietta: Was it a lot of writing, talking?
Catherine: Yeah, it’s a mixture. It’s all about engaging with people and thinking about how to reach audiences and tell them about the arts and how to shape what’s happening in the art world. From writing press releases and sharing materials, whether that’s digitally, helping with social media or websites, or content so that people can learn a bit more about what’s going on in the art scene. When there’s a new exhibition or a new artwork or art fair, we’re often there helping organisations, galleries, museums get the word out and make sure that people know what’s going on so that they can come down and enjoy it.
Henrietta: How did you find the difference between your clients from the UK versus us here in Hong Kong or in Asia? For me personally, when I last visited London, I tried to meet up with Callum and I was like over an hour late, but he was so kind and sat there waiting for me. All I wanted to do was understand how the same kind of business is different between London and Hong Kong. I guess we are growing so fast in Hong Kong, a lot of us want to understand and compare how things are done in the UK.
Catherine: Yeah, for sure. It’s an interesting one because London is quite well-established in terms of the art scene, communications; there are lots of long-running institutions and galleries there. But I think for me the exciting thing about Hong Kong is that it is a fast-moving, entrepreneurial place to be. There’s lots of enthusiasm; people are open here. Whereas in London, you might do a press event and struggle to get people down, write some emails and not hear back. In Hong Kong, you need people, and everyone’s open to collaborate and share ideas. The whole thing’s been growing so quickly over the last 6 years I’ve been here with new openings. I think communications has been a big part of that. People understand here and across Asia what communications is and how it can be effective for our galleries, museums and how it can be an important tool.
Henrietta: So that must have been quite interesting for some of your clients in the West when they wanted to come to Asia during big events like Art Basel, Shanghai Art Week. Have you come across cases where your clients got cultural shock?
Catherine: Yeah, definitely. That’s why we love having a great team of colleagues where some are from Hong Kong, mainland China, with lots of different skills, languages and knowledge. The local knowledge is so important. We work with a lot of clients that are internationally based across our 3 offices. For example, UBS and their cultural platforms. Here in Asia, we are on the ground advising what’s been of interest and sharing that kind of knowledge. I think you do need to have cultural knowledge on the ground, for sure.
Henrietta: Interesting. How would you see the rest of 2020 in terms of communications and programmes? How would communications have a role in — how should I put this — spreading different positive messages to create understanding amongst people because there seems to be different issues coming out with the pandemic, right?
Catherine: Yeah, and I think people do want that communication. Communicating at this time is important, you’ve got to be able to reach out and you can’t go dark for months. It’s important to stay connected. So I think communications, things like social media has become more important, people want to follow things, learn and engage with programming.
One thing we’ve just worked on with the Taipei Dangdai team was a launch of viewing rooms to build connections. Of course there are many viewing rooms happening at the moment, but that was a really curated response to the digital viewing room idea with lots of programming. Whether that’s studio visit, a walk through Taipei, it’s quite open at the moment, people can go to museums and things, walk through museums and linking up people across the world, so spokespeople in America can join a conversation in Taipei. I feel like those connections at this time are important, but I think it’s something we will see continuing in 2020. We don’t know what’s the situation’s going to be like, it’s so hard to predict.
Henrietta: How should people from different continents promote oneself? Should we be focusing on people around us or do you think it’s worth it to spread it out to the world? Especially when your resources are limited.
Catherine: I think local audiences have become more important especially with the travel restrictions, especially in Hong Kong, with things opening up again. There are a great many art fairs opening up in Tai Kwun in a few weeks’ time.
Catherine: Exactly, founded by HKAGA. That’s so fantastic that that’s happening. That’s off the back of other things being cancelled, how can we still come together? Really that’s the local audiences, because international visitors can’t come to Hong Kong at the minute but anyone living in Hong Kong can go down there and enjoy it. The local audiences right now are super important. But through the digital connections we can still talk to our colleagues and friends around the world. It’s good to keep that in mind because people will want to come back in the future, so you got to keep your profile, your best out there.
Henrietta: You can’t just hide out and wait around until the next wave of interest to come to start promoting yourself. By then, people might have forgotten you.
Catherine: You got to keep that engagement going and keep connected.
Henrietta: In terms of programming, even for smaller galleries and companies, how should they be programming themselves to suit their audience?
Catherine: I think programming is key. Content is obviously important. Because there are so many online initiatives, it’s got to be content that people would want to log on to. We’re bombarded with webinars, online viewing sessions. There’s a lot happening.
Henrietta: It’s very difficult to catch one’s attention. That’s why I do attend a lot of different seminars and to learn about people’s psychology and their needs at the moment. How can young people get into this career? What kind of attributes are you looking for when you are hiring people?
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Each week, Ora-Ora will speak with various members of the art community — including artists, curators, academics and other professionals working in the cultural sector — to address topics of interest related but not limited to Hong Kong’s art and cultural scene. The series aims to be an outlet for creativity and a means to connect with peers who share similar interests. The episodes will also available live on Ora-Ora’s Instagram (@galerieoraora), Facebook (Galerie Ora-Ora) and later on Ora-Ora’s YouTube channel.