Profile: Nicola Duarte - Monster task holds no fears

The head of PR at online gaming firm Mind Candy plans to bring in more PR support to drive global expansion. Nikki Wicks reports.

Nicola Duarte: 'growth here is so rapid'
Nicola Duarte: 'growth here is so rapid'

A treehouse might not be the most likely of places for a PRWeek interview, but for Mind Candy's head of PR Nicola Duarte, it is just another day at the office. Since joining the kids' entertainment company in January, in what she calls 'a once in a lifetime opportunity', Duarte has had to forget what she thought she knew about business and learn to do things the 'Mind Candy way'.

Based amid East London's cluster of tech and digital start-ups, Mind Candy is home to Moshi Monsters, the world's fastest growing children's website that has quickly emerged as one of the hottest properties on Shoreditch's 'Silicon Roundabout'.

Sipping on a frothy cappuccino, Duarte is relaxed and as playful as the 'Moshling' that adorns her cup as she talks about the challenges of heading comms for one of the globe's fastest growing kids' brands.

Dubbed 'Facebook for kids', Moshi Monsters has registered more than 50 million users since launching in 2008 and the firm is expected to turn over £62m by the end of the year from licensed Moshi-related merchandise. The speed at which the firm is growing is underpinned by the fact that one child signs up to the Moshi Monsters' online game every second.

'From a PR perspective, we work on a two-week cycle; it's unbelievable how fast things move,' she says.

Like the Mind Candy HQ, with its Caribbean beach-bar-style kitchen, artificial grass flooring, Moshi beanbags and wooden treehouse, Duarte is bright, vibrant, playful and ambitious. At 30, she has just written her first children's book as a present for her niece and claimed that recently watching Superman IV again 'killed my childhood memories' because the effects were so bad.

Talking about her previous role at Classic Media, Duarte smiles as she reflects on her time working on some of the 'retro brands she grew up with and loved' including Postman Pat, Rupert Bear and Where's Wally?

It was during this time that she cut her teeth in the kids' entertainment industry and where she saw first hand how the toy and licensing industry was struggling to get to grips with the digital age - a stark contrast to the young entrepreneurial minds driving Moshi Monsters.

'I love to work with people who love what they do. It was refreshing to meet people with a very clear vision of what kids in a digital age really want,' she says.

While the entrepreneurial spirit was part of her attraction to the role, she admits that the swift decision-making at Mind Candy is a long way from the old industry mindset she was used to.

'Some projects used to be in development for years,' she says. 'At Mind Candy, we have to work in a responsive manner. Something is mentioned on one day and is acted on the next. Obviously we have a long-term vision for the company, but we don't work long-term strategies.'

The 'vision' is that of the company's founder, chief executive and spokesman Michael Acton Smith. Described by the Telegraph as 'a rock star version of Willy Wonka', he has made no bones about his ambition to take on Disney to become the biggest entertainment brand in the world.

'We're currently valued in the hundreds of millions. Michael wants to be one of the first billion-dollar companies to emerge out of "Tech City",' says Duarte.

While she says that having the creative and charismatic CEO as the company's spokesman is 'amazing from a PR perspective', she admits that she has to be flexible and there are times when she has to 'reel him in slightly'.

'He enjoys and understands the media and that is hugely helpful to my role. But sometimes it's hard to hold announcements back,' she says laughing.

Samantha Loveday, editor of ToyNews and Licensing.biz, is quick to pay tribute to Duarte for how the firm has told its story to the media, hailing her as 'one of the most proactive PROs' she's worked with.

She adds: 'Nicola is always ready to entertain a story and feature ideas a little out of the ordinary.'

With consumer agencies already supporting the brand in Australia, New York and London, Duarte is currently 'establishing ways to scale the comms with the growth of the business.'

'The growth is so rapid and the international expansion will hit very soon so that potentially we'll need agencies in a number of territories across the globe,' she says.

Duarte's attention will now turn to promoting the brand through the lucrative Christmas period. But one suspects that, like the treehouse, Duarte and Moshi Monsters will be around long after the decorations come down.

CV
2010 Head of PR, Mind Candy
2009 Director of PR and marketing, Classic Media
2007 Press officer, Entertainment Rights (prior to acquisition by
Classic Media)
2006 Internal comms executive, Discovery Networks Europe
2006 Comms officer, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
2004 PR executive, Interactive Prospect Targeting
2003 Media assistant, Sainsbury's

NICOLA DUARTE'S TURNING POINTS

What was your biggest career break?

Getting a foot in the door within Sainsbury's in-house PR team set me on the road to PR. I have had a number of great experiences along the way with media firms such as Discovery and Classic Media, but Moshi has to be my biggest career break to date.

To work on a pioneering brand that is looking to revolutionise the kids' entertainment industry is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Andrew Kerr, former EVP of consumer products and marketing at Classic Media, was a great mentor. He took a chance on me, giving me a promotion that boosted my career.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

Work hard - know where you are heading but don't get too caught up in it; you never know what opportunities may fall into your lap. Be passionate - throw yourself into what you do. If you don't enjoy it, change it. And be nice to people - it's a very small world.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Passion, ambition, a can-do attitude and a personable, playful nature.

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