This blog features Claire Pryke, the Company Director of Chalk Media. Here, we learn her road to success including massive amounts of drive but also aspects of devastation.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?
I own and run Chalk Media, a full-service media and marketing agency in Essex offering Graphic design, Print, Websites, Media Planning and buying, Outdoor Medias, Radio advertising and much more!
What made you choose this career/industry?
I was always very creative when I was at school. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. I applied for loads of random jobs; all I knew was that I needed to earn lots of money, which my parents made clear!
What is a typical day in your career?
A typical day would be: Writing design briefs, planning media schedules, negotiating prices, checking statistics on digital campaigns and chatting to my lovely client’s! Also, overseeing new branding for brochures, billboards, or listening to radio adverts.
What are your key motivators?
My key motivators would have to be a good life, health, wealth and holidays …
What is the biggest lesson that you have learnt along the way?
Never give up. You will make costly errors at times. Move on and make that money back, do not dwell, learn from it and don’t do it again!
How did you get to where you are now, and did you face any challenges along the way?
I started with a job at my local newspaper. I went for the interview and it turned out the position was to arrange the layout of the papers, it sounded quite interesting. I got offered the job so off I went. I watched everyone around me, all the different departments and how they all worked with me in the middle putting all their work together. It was interesting and very stressful, which I soon came to enjoy! It was a great start for me, but after 3 years I learned that I needed more, I loved the pressure, but the paper was no longer a challenge for me. I had the opportunity to job shadow the other teams and it was at that point knew being a sales representative was going to be my thing. So, I applied for a sale representative role at an opposition Newspaper. I loved it, smashing my targets and earning more and more, it was such fun.
My inner entrepreneur wanted more, I needed to learn more. So, I applied for a Sales Representative role at a radio station, many of my clients from the paper started advertising on the radio and again it was such a buzz! I stayed for a couple of years but was approached about a manager’s role back at the newspaper. I was certainly interested and excited about the money, so I resigned. The radio station were distraught and offered to match the basic pay and pay commission on top, now you’re talking! I stayed at the radio station for a further year creaming everything I could, but I was hit by the travel bug. Many of my friends were finishing University and going travelling so I thought that would be my next call. I saved as much money as I could and booked a round the world ticket with my best friend Nikki. I learnt a lot on my travels, and I had a lot of time to think about my future. I was sick of earning so much money for people. There had to be away I could do this for myself?
Upon my return I was approached again by the same paper who offered me the managers role previously. This time I took it. When the times were good, they were great, but when they were bad the pressure was on me, it was my team, the production team are now chasing me for my teams work on press day it was hard to keep everyone happy.
I had a holiday booked to go back to Thailand for Christmas with Nikki, it was now 2004. You may have worked out by now that 2004 is the year the Tsunami hit. There we were in a small hotel in Phuket with only the main road separating our hotel from the beach. Nikki’s alarm went off early, 15 minutes after the alarm which was snoozed the first wave hit. The noise was like nothing I could ever explain again. We went to our balcony (we were on the 2nd floor) to see the water lapping into our balcony and a sea of smashed up vehicles, boats, people screaming. We tried to pull people in out of the water but there was very little we could do. I remember everyone rushing to the top of the building, it was only 3 floors. The building was going to go down, if we didn’t get off, we were going down with it. We spotted a lot of Thai’s climbing off the back of the building so we all followed, we climbed down until we were in the water, then we continued to clamber over all the junk , random items floating, until we came to higher ground. We eventually heard a whistle being blown by a police man , he pulled me and Nikki out of the water and the first thing we saw was a young man on a moped signalling for us to get on the back of his bike. We did get on his bike and he drove us up to higher ground where we stayed for the night. Nikki had glass in her foot and I just had cuts and bruises.
When a new day dawned, it reality hit us. We were in Thailand stuck with nothing, no money, no passport, no clothes. I then learned what the British embassy were there for. Upon return to the UK we started to take stock of the situation. I couldn’t watch the news, I struggled to talk about it and that was when the editor from the paper I worked at called me for a “Top news story”, are you actually kidding me?! I remember crying, saying I couldn’t do it and she told me I was “letting the paper down”. My dad took the phone and that was the end of it. I did go back to my job after my 2 week ‘holiday’, but I knew it was no longer for me, so I resigned.
I spoke to a few of my clients who were more like friends now and they were a lot more sympathetic. I asked them if they would support me if I set up an Agency where I could offer them everything. I had sold most of them newspapers and radio previously, but as an agency I could offer them everything, billboards, train station panels, literally whatever they wanted and needed, and I could package it all together in a way so that the client’s response was better than ever.
I had some savings, but it was a case of do it now, or get a mortgage. I took the risk , I had my client’s behind me, so I set up in my mum and dads study, as I was still living with them, and that is where Chalk Media was born…
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
One thing I would say in business, is there are many setbacks and hurdles that you will face but you must learn from them.
One early shock I remember is my bookkeeper calling me to say “do you realise how much X client owes you? Its over 120 day overdue!”. I had no idea; I was used to someone else chasing for money. I keep a close eye on my accounts now, none go over 60 days!
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
Thinking it was nearly too late.
What is one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Do not take your work home with you.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
For me, my initiative is life. Live your life, enjoy your life. I love my home, my lifestyle, my holidays, my friends, I love my life.
What is your biggest achievement in life?
Winning Businesswoman of the year (for my area) in 2010, my company has also won 12 other business awards in its sector.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
I have a Peloton – the spinning bike, I love it! I have always loved the gym, the social life that also comes with it of course. Burning loads of calories then put them back in with prosecco with your friends! I bought the Peloton during lockdown, so I miss my friends but still have a prosecco and a zoom call!
What is great about being a female in your role?
I can multitask! I do think it is sometimes easier to get new client’s, being female.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Yes, as much as I feel sometimes it’s easier to approach new client’s being a female, I have come across situations where it is clear we will never win the business as they want to work with a man.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Take time out. Sometimes you may not see the answer if you look too hard.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Work hard, do the leadership job before you get offered it.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
My nan. She lost her husband (my grandad) early. She was a ‘pocket rocket’, she was amazing with my brother and I growing up. She was so strong, independent, extremely caring, and she had 6 points on her license at the age of 86 which I always found hilarious because she had an old fiesta with 4 gears!
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
If it’s meant to be it will be.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Enjoy every moment! Live, love and laugh – laugh a lot!