1 January 2013

Alumnus Phil Allison runs a media and publishing company in London with a turnover of over a million pounds, but his route to the top has not been easy. He moved to London with four friends after doing a Visual Arts degree in 1997.

"My now mother-in-law found me my first job in a milk round student magazine under a page entitled ‘small ads – big opportunities’. The job was as a Retail Manager at the Tate looking after the magazines sales and I slowly worked my way up and ended up as a publisher of magazine, tate: the art magazine at the age of 27 working with a really great team of people. I was very lucky – right place right time.”
“One of the highlights of my career was being there when they opened the doors of Tate Modern in May 2000 which was a very exciting time. It put London at the centre of the art world. ”
Phil was enjoying his work with Tate, working with fellow Lancaster alumnus Damien Whitmore, who was then Director of Communications (before moving to the V&A) and socialising with his close circle of friends from university, many of whom also had started jobs in the arts.


But in 2002 disaster struck. The Tate magazine was put out to tender and the contract was won by another firm. Phil was made redundant, along with Tim Marlow, the writer, arts broadcaster and historian, who was then the Editor of the magazine.
Over a drink in a pub the two men decided to launch their own publishing business, Cultureshock Media – and they have never looked back.
Cultureshock was founded in 2003 and now has 25 staff and over a million pound turnover.
The agency specialises in design, branding, publishing and film production and its clients include V&A, The  British Council, Channel 4, Kew Gardens, Sotheby’s and the Barbican Centre.  


But his high flying career did not mean Phil forgot his old links from Lancaster University, keeping in touch with his former tutor Gerry Davies, who recommended 2011 Fine Art graduate Saoirse Crean to him. Phil said: “It’s hard to break into the art world and it always helps to know someone. Gerry’s recommendation of Saoirse meant a lot as the Lancaster network is really strong.  The art department at Lancaster offers a fantastic platform into working life. Many of my co students are working in the arts, not just as practising artists, but as Gallery Directors, BBC producers, Television Editors etc. Lancaster gave us all a great start.”


Saoirse’s lucky break now sees her working at Cultureshock Media as a sales executive, working with high end Arts and Culture publications such as the V&A Magazine, the magazine for Sotheby’s Auction House and Kew Magazine. She said: “My tutor Gerry Davies said “network or die” and it was good advice. I’ve now got a job in London working in my field which is great.”

Saiorse, like Phil, says her time at university gave her the skills and confidence needed to thrive in the art world.  “The degree was hard work in terms of workload, but also the best time of my life. The opportunities I had were amazing and Lancaster was definitely the best place for me. Even organising the degree show at the end equips students with skills which are transferable to the business world of art.”


In ten years’ time, she would like to see herself managing the marketing department of an art institution such as the V&A or Tate, or for a smaller creative company. “Alternatively, I would like to use the practical art skills I learnt during my degree and work on creating films - both of which are possibilities with the knowledge of the art world I am gaining at Cultureshock Media.”


Gerry Davies, Director of Study on the Fine Art programme, said he regularly invites successful alumni to contribute to Lancaster’s visiting speaker programme.  “Current students can see the quality and commitment necessary to do well as a museum curator, gallery director or artist, and feel confident that a professional career in the creative economy is completely possible for them.”

Photo (above) shows Phil Allison and Saoirse Crean.