Spreading the word (graduate case study)

Communication attribute graduate image
Image courtesy of UAL

Don’t underestimate the value of word of mouth when you’re developing your creative career, says milliner Claire Strickland. Building a network of support has been vital to Claire, who studied BA Costume, Makeup and Technical Effects for the Performing Arts at London College of Fashion (LCF).

By any means necessary

From the first year on the course at LCF, when Claire was learning to work with a wide range of different materials from plaster to fiberglass, creating props and costumes from severed heads to team mascots, she was already gaining work experience alongside her studies. Claire said she really paid attention when tutors on her course would mention great people in the industry and then followed them up, she says, "I would remember the name, do some research and then call them up and explain the course I was working on and that I was trying to get some work experience."

This approach to getting her foot in the door was how Claire started working with props, costumes and effects specialist Robert Allsop. Her approach didn't just involve using her creative skills to gain experience, however, as she was prepared to use her other skills to make sure she got into the environments in which she wanted to work.

I also had secretarial skills and I called the Little Angel Theatre and asked if there was anything I could do that would get my foot in the door. That worked as it was a very small company, but you’ve got to realise when it’s not going to turn into a real job. You’ve got to know when you’re at the point when the people you are working for are going to always see you as the work experience person.

Claire Strickland

Self promotion is key

When she finished the course in 2007, Claire left with not only a great degree but experience of working in and around the industry. But even armed with that, she was under no illusions, she says, "I knew it would be really hard to get a job even having had lots of work experience."

Claire developed a two-pronged approach to finding work. Having attended a UAL talk, 'Business Start-Up on a Shoestring' and a one-to-one advice session organised by the University, she decided to take business planning and self-promotion seriously.

Claire started to actively promote herself through social media and still runs a blog on which she shares photographs and sketches of her work and work in progress, an approach that has brought her some success in being offered jobs.

The power of word of mouth

Much of Claire’s work also comes from word of mouth and she stressed the importance of making sure people know who you are and what you are doing. She says, "The much bigger jobs with bigger budgets always come through word of mouth. You need to market yourself to get the next job, and it’s really important to have an up-to-date, professional looking portfolio online. It’s worth taking the time to make sure you get professional quality photographs taken of your work too because somebody will hear about you from somebody else and the first thing they do will be to check you out online."

Claire’s approach to spreading the word is to help others as much as possible and ensure her name is on people’s lips.

If I see something I think would help someone else I know, like a job or a competition they would be good for that I don’t have the skills or time for, I’ll go out of my way to contact them and let them know about it. It seems to work for me too in that people will call up for ideas on how to use particular materials. I’ll always try to be the person who can help out.

Claire Strickland

Find out more about Claire Strickland at www.clairestrickland.com.