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It’s great to have a network to lean on and bounce ideas off - Interview with Grainne Clarke, Empire Cinemas

For this month's interview, we are delighted to be joined by Grainne Clarke, Business Development & Events Manager, Empire Cinemas Ltd. Grainne was a mentor in the 5th edition of the UNIC Women's Cinema Leadership programme and is here sharing her experience.


UNIC: Tell us about your daily habits that keep you inspired and motivated.

Grainne: Being able to be creative, interacting with individuals and laughing are genuinely my daily simple pleasures that keep me motivated.  Many will know I’m a list-maker, and having my list keeps me focused on my priorities but mindful of all the things I need to (eventually) get round to! It’s more of a mind-map these days given the varying projects I work on.

What I have really found a game-changer for me has been going to work in an office environment in my new role at Empire Cinemas. I spent four years working from home on my own so I’ve really embraced and thrived on being back in an office and interacting with people in real life, in a professional capacity. Having people to talk through ideas or concerns, it’s so much more time efficient, productive and enriching. It has really helped me be more creative and motivated.

UNIC: Looking back at your career journey, what are you the proudest of?

Grainne: Gosh big question!! It will always be taking the stage at CineEurope in 2019 to deliver the first ever event cinema product presentation. It was a real turning point for the Event Cinema Association and certainly cemented the growing importance of event cinema content. But personally, it challenged me on so many levels. Many will find it hard to believe, I actually use to loath presenting in public or to anyone! Though I knew how hard I had worked on making this happen and bringing it all together, so before I went on stage, I had a ‘little chat with myself’, encouraging myself to not let the nerves and apprehension get hold of me but also to go out on stage and enjoy it!

A good friend once said to me “no-one wants to see you fail”. I now remind myself of that every time I present. Because ultimately, we do all want each other to succeed, it is good to remind ourselves to leave the imposter syndrome feeling backstage and just go and shine. It was – ironically – the first time I could genuinely say that I enjoyed presenting, those first few sentences are always the hardest. But remember to pause and breathe (don’t talk too fast, I always hear Phil Clapp say in my head) and enjoy it.

UNIC: Having a demanding role, how do you balance your work and personal life?

Grainne: You know, Captain Hindsight is my favourite unknown antihero…reflection (hindsight) is a great gift but how you pay that forward or change is always the challenge. I fully raise my hand to being in the camp of ‘over-committing’.  Equally I’ve have had so many conversations with others on how and what is the balance! Over-committing stems from so many reasons; financial, not letting people down, being interested in a project/cause, an inability to sometimes say no (again for a variety of reasons!) or an inability to delegate because you are a doer/perfectionist/or there is simply no one else.

In true Captain Hindsight mode, the last interview I did, I applauded myself for having found a balance and one I promised to commit to. Circumstances change and before you know it, you’ve lost the balance you once established that worked at that time.

Having a balance is so important, we grow from interactions, variety and being creative and it’s so easy to fall into a monotonous trap. Everyone has different drivers as to what ‘balance’ looks like, ultimately, I personally feel it’s the input you put into your professional role versus the time you get to spend on doing things you find rewarding outside of your paid job.

Discipline and letting go of guilt are, I find, a good starting point to finding a balance, along with recognising what those things are outside of work you want to do. Having over-committed to various work projects this last year, I lost all sense of any balance and made the recent decision to step back from a variety of things to focus on myself. It’s important to know in yourself what that balance looks like rather than defaulting to “I have so much work” and a feeling of depletion.

What is it you want to achieve – it can be anything from getting that home you’ve always wanted, spending more time with the ones you love – carve out that time, wanting to travel - decide on where, book and train for that running event or physical challenge of some sorts or just actually read a book for pleasure every now and then! We set goals in our professional career and it so important to set those goals for your personal life. As I type, having now bought back time, I’m deciding how best to spend this and firming up my personal goals.

UNIC: What were the biggest challenges you encountered throughout your leadership journey?

Grainne: Knowing when change is required and acting on it. Perseverance is commendable but sometimes we need to change to move forward, even if that change isn’t what you (initially) want it to be or seems like an impossible situation. Being able to separate the purpose from the/a person I have at times found challenging - I tend to avoid conflict. That said, we will all face moments in our career when we need to decide whether a situation/role still serves you (for the numerous reasons listed in my answer above) and questioning what does change look like? This feels applicable to so many scenarios but remaining authentic and focused on the outcome is paramount - what do you want to achieve from that change and how do you navigate that successfully?

UNIC: Did you have any mentors in your career?  Who has been a mentor to you?

Grainne: You know I am so fortunate to have had so many individuals over my career who have championed me and that I can turn to for guidance.

My most long-standing mentor is Monica Chadha, non-executive director and executive coach at Mocha8. I caught her attention with a charity pitch I did over 14 years ago. Monica has long championed, guided, and supported me throughout my career. She continuously challenges me, offers a different perspective on situations and taught me the importance of keeping my integrity. She is my independent voice of reason and a great friend. 

Phil Clapp, CEO of the UK Cinema Association and president of UNIC, taught me a great deal about leadership and how to run a successful trade body. He’s the man that never stops, but he always has time for everyone. He is someone I turn to for advice, knowing I will always get an honest – yet balanced – response.

There are so many people I respect and admire in our industry, a fair number of these I managed to persuade to join the ECA Board during my tenure as Managing Director. Each obviously with their own unique brilliance, but all with a common thread of honesty, commitment, dedication and effectiveness. When I look at the Board composition and the individuals on the Board, knowing how busy they are with their own day jobs, I’m so grateful for the time that they gave/found for me. I really do admire that, finding time for people is very important and a quality I really respect.  

Last but not least, I am fortunate to have a group of like-minded female industry professionals whom I also call my friends. We’re a diverse bunch, but we’re all ambitious, supportive, competent, and enjoy a glass of wine! It’s great to have a network to lean on and bounce ideas off.

UNIC: You were a mentor in the fifth edition of the UNIC Women's Cinema Leadership Programme.How was that experience for you?

Grainne: I felt so honoured to be asked to be a mentor and then when I met my mentee, I felt blessed. Mentoring is a two-way street. As an individual, you are continuously growing and learning. To see potential in an individual and helping them see that potential in themselves is so rewarding. My mentee on the programme was Rachel Bland, now Senior Screen Content Management for Vue International, she is fantastic, I feel so fortunate to have been paired with Rachel. Our programme ran during the first lockdown so we both had professional and personal challenges to navigate. Being the person I am, I was open to her about my situation and we both really learnt a lot from each other. Rachel has a ferocious drive, an individual who is incredibly smart and ambitious. I honestly felt as her mentor, I just needed to give her visibility and encouragement as she will shine on her own merits. Rachel’s first panel was a proud moment, she’s a gem and I love watching her achieve more and more and showing the industry what she is capable of – that’s on her, not me.

UNIC: What advice do you have for current mentors and mentees?

Grainne: Honestly, I would say whatever your role, take ownership and do it well. That is what I look for in others, people I admire are those with integrity and ultimately good at what they do – regardless of their seniority. What I would also advise, something I took from this scheme, is to record and review your own successes. They become the foundations of your future progression but also to remind yourself and celebrate what you have achieved.

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