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Carat UK’s CEO talks expectations and getting apoplectic at “Levelling Up”

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As she prepares to mark a year as Carat UK’s CEO, Clare Chapman reflects on her new role and her proud Northern agency background.

Almost a year into my role at Carat UK the question I’m most consistently asked is “is it what you expected?” It’s tough to answer as, in a world so unpredictable and chaotic, I feel expectations can be akin to fantasy these days.

So I respond by raving about what I was most excited about and still love best – the opportunity to champion and celebrate amazing talent right across the UK. Being part of dentsu, who were first movers in breaking out of the old ‘London first’ model means joining a network of businesses all over the country – from Stafford, Bristol and Newcastle to Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester. I’d long been grumpy about what I perceived to be a dismissive attitude to the ‘The Regions’ and that well-meaning but ultimately patronising phrase ‘Levelling Up’ sends me apoplectic at every single hearing, so I was perfectly primed.

This isn’t just because I’m a chippy northerner. I started my career in the north, so I know. I get exactly how vibrant and dynamic cities like Manchester, Edinburgh and Leeds are, and perfectly understand what can be achieved by empowering the incredible talent to be found there.

My first media job was at Bonis Hall in Cheshire. Accessed via a winding country lane and a leafy drive, you crunched across the gravel and parked next to a field of grazing animals. It was both bucolic and glamorous. Media partner meetings were hosted in The Bistro (we may have been up north, darling, but this was no Dinnerladies) and in summer we spilled out on to the lawn next to the pool. What a way to work.

A move to the city centre and what is now Carat Manchester required a proper change of gear. Manchester has glamour too, but the glitter is cut with grit. And wit. Ask for The Bistro here and you’ll first be directed to the nearest Gregg’s then be made fun of for the rest of your career.

This city and its people have the most incredible energy: inventive, rebellious, industrious, and commercial. Then and now, our Manchester team are driven by spotting, creating and leveraging opportunities for growth. Their talents and appetite for doing so on behalf of our business and those of our clients know no bounds. It’s an absolute joy to be in their midst once more.

Getting to know our team in Edinburgh was incredible fun. Last summer brought the usual influx of festival hoards and the local bin strike rendered pavement space at an even greater premium than usual as locals and visitors jostled through piles of rubbish. With their customary good humour, mental agility and willingness to take inspiration from anywhere, our Carat team admitted to a grudging respect for the massive ‘F You’ the strikers had delivered. The unavoidable sensory attack that disrupted the maximum number of people at the most high-profile time was neatly reframed as a live lesson in top-notch comms planning.

My route to Carat Leeds brings me out of the station and past Channel 4’s national HQ, prompting flashbacks to the building’s previous incarnation at the Majestyk nightclub and my student days in the city. We’d never take a coat for the queue outside – even in snow. The cloakroom cost a quid and waiting for it only further delayed the important business of drinking and dancing.

This reflects the attitude of our Carat Leeds team today: there’s no nonsense suffered here, no drama in the face of adversity. Pragmatism rules. It’s simply a tight community of superb people getting on with the business of being indispensable partners to our clients. It’s great to be back.

And I love London too, of course. It’s been my home for the last 15 years and our office there is my base. The Carat London team includes folk from all over the UK and beyond: smart, funny, determined and kind, they are the living embodiment of our Designing for People ethos and I’m incredibly proud to work alongside them.

So, life at Carat UK; it’s about four teams of awesome people, different and complementary, independent but working as one. It’s brilliant. I love it. I suppose that’s only to be expected.

Clare Chapman was named Carat UK CEO in February 2022.

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