Alumni, MA Cultural and Creative Industries course

Combining business and the arts: An interview with Crystal-Angelee Burrell

by Kirsty Warner

Today’s alumni interview is with Crystal-Angelee Burrell. In this interview, she provides an overview of her current role, her career journey, and how she developed the key skills required to succeed. For anyone looking for a career that combines business and the arts, this is an essential read!

Crystal-Angelee Burrell is a sales and marketing strategist with a passion for making an impact in culture and the arts. She undertook an MA in Cultural and Creative Industries at King’s College London between 2015 and 2016.

Can you give me an overview of your current job? What is a typical day like as a B2B Sales Manager, Business Development at Insider, Inc?  

It’s exciting because I get to own Insider’s relationship with top Tech, Consulting & Advertising companies. My day to day involves prospecting leaders across these industries to identify enterprise sales decision makers. From there, it’s helping them understand Business Insider’s value proposition as a premier journal subscription for their teams. I’m successful in sales because I get to leverage my greatest assets—empathy, curiosity, and a deep desire for meaningful connection—towards revenue and mutually beneficial wins.

You have an impressive job history; can you tell me about your career journey?

Earning a Masters of Arts from King’s College London changed my life for the better. My course, MA Cultural and Creative Industries, afforded me the opportunity to complete a taught course at Tate Modern where I learned from globally renown curators, conservators and art historians. The perspective I’ve established studying full-time and working part-time in London, and then working at blue chip creative establishments in New York City, is what differentiates me in the highly competitive cultural sector.

I consulted with L’Oréal at Hudson Yards for a 7 months immediately after graduating from King’s. While there, I earned a place on Christie’s inaugural Graduate Training Programme, a rigorous business development rotation program that I’d applied to while still completing my degree in London. I became a trusted partner for the sales teams across blockbuster Day and Evening Sales, including the historic Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale. I also worked in sales enablement and client support with the Private and Iconic team, and the Postwar and Contemporary Arts team. A very personal memory was being in the room the night that an Alexander Calder mobile, 21 feuilles blanches (1953), sold for $17,975,000 (more than twice its high estimate) after I’d had the privilege of writing the Calder essay for that lot. The energy at Christie’s evening sales was always electric but, years later for me, that moment stands out.

My biggest priority from my mid-20s onwards has been mentoring rising creatives, particularly those from historically excluded backgrounds. Working at Christie’s confirmed to me the very harmful pitfalls of an overly homogeneous workforce. Too often, homogeneity plagues the fine arts sector with micro- and macro-aggressions. A lot of my colleagues at Christie’s relied on me for emotional support; they confided in me because I always treated people with respect, compassion, and integrity despite the circumstances.

Separately, young professionals from every background  consistently reach out to me on LinkedIn me for career advice—for instance, guidance for applying to UK-based graduate schools; help pivoting to a different branch of the creative sector; and even a couple of people applying to the same KCL course that I completed who wanted to hear how I made the most of my experience at King’s. When these young professionals have reached out to me, I’ve gone the extra mile of getting on the phone with them to best answer their questions. Once the city reopened, I even treated one of them—a fellow Boston University alumna, and Senior Associate at the consulting firm PwC—to dinner after mentoring her on the phone for about 1 year.

Since 2018, I’ve served as a mentor with Free Arts NYC—a 501(c)(3) non-profit that empowers underserved youth through arts and mentorship programming towards college readiness. There’s a lot I’m proud of across my career so far, but my relationship with Free Arts is at the top.

Are there any expectations you had about this career path that you have found differed from reality, in both a good or bad way?

The creative sector is vulnerable, so I’ve learned to adapt. When the COVID 19 pandemic sent shock waves through the economy, the creative sector was hit particularly hard. According to the Brooking Institute’s creative industry analysis published in August 2020, “Lost Art: Measuring COVID-19’s devastating impact on America’s creative economy,” America’s creative sector lost 2.7 million jobs and over $150 billion in goods and services (Brookings Institute, August 2020). Being made redundant alongside other colleagues at Soane Britain, a luxury handmade furniture company, gave me the chance to reprioritize my time. I took the opportunity to earn two certificates in Entrepreneurship from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with Coursera.

In 2020, I founded The Crystal Angelee Company, a writing consultancy for creatives and cultural institutions. My current clients include The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003), the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts (80 Hanson Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11217), The CultureLP network, and private clients. Please explore a few of my published works here. It’s ironic that the most challenging time in my career was actually the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me professionally. It freed me up to turn my passion for writing into an actual profitable freelance business for the arts that has continued to grow, and is currently accepting new clients!

What skills are the most crucial for your current role? And how did you develop these? 

Sales is a notoriously difficult profession, and I’ve had tough quarters like any one else, but I’ve also had extremely impressive ones at Insider. My most lucrative deal to date—a six figure deal with a Top 3 tech company—had a 9 month sales cycle (the time it takes between initial contact and closing the deal). A year later in May 2022, I persuaded this same client to increase their account by 44% based simply on their current usage and diligent account management on my part. That said, I’d say the most important skills are patience, resilience, and being teachable. I’ve learned so much from my teammates along the way and have remained humble, which is imperative to succeed—after all, strong quarters only last for so long. Developing these skills has taken time and, for me, a strong foundation in faith-based optimism. It definitely helps with keeping a good attitude, and showing up with integrity. That’s what matters most at the end of the day.

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