A Conversation with Christine Skinner

Christine Skinner is an arts publicist who seamlessly seems to make things happen. When it comes to describing Christine, it is hard to separate the person from the profession. At her core, Christine has a genuine love and appreciation for the arts, a trait which radiates through her work. Usually the one working behind the scenes, we are very grateful to Christine for sitting down and giving us an in-depth look at what goes into the necessary and complex world of arts publicity.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

Both of my parents loved the arts, both cinema, performing arts and music, so I’ve been exposed to it from a very young age. I started with dance classes when I was little and started going to the theatre. I think I went to my first West End production when I was seven. I’ve always just loved it, grown up with it and studied it a little bit. It’s always been in my heart. I worked for an agency called HWB Communications for a long time and I was lucky enough to work on this big arts festival for five years and that was just an outlet for my love for the arts. Then I went on my own and have been very lucky to carry on working in the arts. 

Did you always know that you wanted to be in publicity?

I think I’ve always been interested in stories. I also looked at doing journalism. When I arrived here, because I’m originally from England, I did some work experience at The Cape Times and then I had the opportunity for an interview with this agency and it was media and storytelling and people and a very exciting opportunity. That’s actually how I got into it.

Because you are the first woman that I have sat down with in your particular field, I wanted to ask you about what goes into that job description?

My job is to work with my client and the media to find stories that are of interest to the media’s audience whether that is viewers, listeners or readers. And obviously help promote, ultimately, and raise the profile of the production, film, project or artist. 

What is a typical day like, if there is such a thing?

No two days are the same, which is very nice and very exciting. It might include writing press releases or copies or putting together the biogs and making sure that the facts and the messaging is correct. Negotiating interviews, so looking at opportunities of artists or themes of production and how that might match to a media slot. Making sure we have good pictures. Liaising with clients, sitting in on rehearsals and getting a feel for it. Meeting the artist, meeting the media, setting up competitions. Attending the production. Getting to go see shows and calling it work. No two days are the same. 

Photo Credit: Jesse Kramer

Do you have a favourite aspect of any of those things that you mentioned?

To go see shows or films or hear an artist sing and be a part of that in whatever small way is a privilege and I just love it. I love it. I go and listen to music and call it work. 

This might be an unfair question but do you have a favourite production that you have worked on?

No. I have also been lucky to work on so many different projects as well. There are too many to mention and I also think that I have been lucky in every project that I work on speaks to me in some way. I pinch myself that this is what I get to do.

What is something that you have found to be your biggest challenge?

I think that there are no guarantees. You can have the support of the press. You can have an incredible story. You can have amazing photographs. And for example, something can come up and your interview isn’t placed or your article isn’t placed and it can be due to a large number of factors, despite everyone’s good intentions but it’s not like an ad. You can’t buy your space and then it’s in the press. I am a bit of a control freak so I think it’s quite a miracle that I have worked in this industry for nearly 20 years. That can be a challenge sometimes. 

What do you wish people knew more about your job?

Possibly the same thing, that there isn’t a guarantee on it. A lot of people who I work with understand how the media works but I do have to take that time to explain to people that “I can’t guarantee you this and I don’t guarantee you this.” But a lot of artists or companies that I work with do understand that it is one of the challenges. 

You have gotten to have quite an extensive career. What has your perception been on the evolution of South African theatre?

I just think it’s taken the world by storm. You can go to, obviously my main reference is Cape Town, but from when I arrived some time ago there was lots happening then. It seems now even more so. You can go to either live or a screening of your choice and see jazz music, a big musical, a new play, a classic, ballet, standup comedy, it’s all in the city and most of it is an incredible standard. Wow, isn’t that amazing? I think that’s phenomenal. There seems to be a lot more of it and I think there are lot of people as well who are going overseas and taking the world by storm and winning awards. I’m thrilled that I get to wake up and go to work and in a small way somehow be a part of that. 

From my short experience being in communication with publicists, I’ve noticed that the majority of them are women. I wanted to ask you if you have found it to be a female dominated industry or if it’s balanced?

I think that there are quite a few guys who do it. I am thinking about a couple of those guys in my head but there does seem to be a lot of women who are also specialising in arts and entertainment which I think is fantastic. 

Why do you think that is?

Photo Credit: Jesse Kramer

Without having the figures and sums, I think in public relations there are a lot more women in general as well. I’m thinking again of some agencies but I have no stats or research to back that up. Perhaps it’s just a proportional thing? Perhaps we are more passionate about the arts and entertainment sector? 

Without leading the question too much, do you think that maybe it’s because it’s quite a strategic industry and women may be perceived as being better at that?

Possibly. Could be. Men do use strategy as well so we must be fair. You also have to be flexible as well. You have to be able to juggle your priorities and juggle different deadlines and timelines. Maybe we are better at multitasking?

What is something you are most proud of?

I think that I have been very lucky to specialise in the arts, culture and entertainment sector. I suppose in any field that you are working in, if you are self-employed, you have to make sure that you have enough work coming in. You have to plan, you’ve got to strategise when you’ve got too much and when you take on people and when you don’t. It’s all of those business related things and I think particularly in the arts sector. I am very blessed that I have been lucky enough to be doing this going on eight years now by myself and that I am still here. I have been very fortunate. 

What do you see the trajectory of the arts and entertainment industry in South Africa being? 

I think again, the wealth of talent that is in South Africa and the shows, the projects, the films, the music and everything that is happening here, I think it can only continue to grow and take its place on the global stage as well as have South African support, one hopes. I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy, again across a lot of sectors. NGO’s, new world media, even so-called full-time jobs these days, they aren’t necessarily long-term contracts. They are on timeframe contracts. I think it’s a world where we have to keep working hard and looking at ourselves. I think we have so much talent here that it can only continue to be strong and to grow. 

What advice would you have for women looking to enter this field?

The media is changing. It is a lot more digital. Content is different although I think the same idea of story is king and good visuals say a thousand words. All of those things are still relevant in the new media. Work hard. Be interested. Learn as much as you can whenever you can. Be flexible and be willing to take on the opportunities. If you have passion and integrity and work hard, I think it’s a great sector to work in. 

Who are some South Africa women in the arts that inspire you?

Women who are legends such as the Janice Honeymans, the Jennie Rezneks and the Anna-Mart van de Merwes, who to work with just amaze. Incredible, approachable people. Also women in the arts sector who have taken so much of their time to also give back, like professor Virginia Davids who founded an organisation called ComArt. She gives back her time and arts training and knowledge. And women who put their work out there as well. Any artist actually but women as well. If you are putting your work out there and opening yourself to lots of opinions, I think that’s brave. There is also tomorrow’s icons, the young theatre-makers and poets and playwrights like Koleka Putuma and Tara Notcutt and they are already doing legendary thing and leading the way. 

All photos taken by Jesse Kramer on January 20th 2017 at 15 on Orange, an African Pride Hotel. 

Special thanks to Christine Skinner, Jesse Kramer and Natasha Davies.



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