In Conversation with Nandita Lakshmanan

Nandita Lakshmanan, Founder & CEO, The PRactice has a unique story to tell. Her views on public relations, based on 25+ years of experience have helped shape the vision of the firm and influenced its best campaigns. She is also focused on establishing a culture of continuous leadership through mentoring and coaching, fostering entrepreneurship and exploring collaborations – to prepare the firm for future growth. She leads with the belief that an idea is only as good as its execution, thereby maintaining a close eye on implementation and the last mile.

Nandita has served on various prestigious juries to determine excellence in Public Relations, including the 57th Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival for the PR category; the SABRE Awards India, among others. She is an alumnus of the Fortune/US State Department Global Mentorship Program, where she won the Exxon Mobil-Vital Voices grant for an idea titled “Integrity Decoded”. In 2014, she won the SABRE Individual Award for her contribution to the PR business in India. She was recognised among India’s top 10 women in Public Relations by Reputation Today in 2016.

In a free-wheeling conversation with Shree Lahiri, Nandita talks about how she became an entrepreneur, the mantra for success, managing critical transition times and even about what she does in her free time – dabbling in kitchen gardening & exploring the rich legacy of Indian arts and crafts (especially handloom).

RT: What got you into Public Relations?

In 1993, I was pursuing my Masters in Delhi University, and also working part time as an announcer at All India Radio. My sister who had just started working for Corporate Voice in Bangalore sent me an article in Business Today that featured the rise of public relations firms. What I read about the profession interested me as it seemed to blend aspects of journalism, research and field work. After I completed my Masters, I landed my first job with Genesis PR. And here I am 26 years later – in love with my work everyday!

RT: You started The PRactice in 2000 at the age of 30 with just Rs 35,000. Would the same be possible in 2019?

Absolutely! Do account for inflation when you think of INR 35,000- :). Besides, what helped me most was my rich experience, a favourable reputation as a professional and goodwill among stakeholders – all of which held me in good stead.

RT: What spurred you on to branch out on your own and become an entrepreneur?

Some things are meant to be. Being part of a start up (I was among the first few employees in my first job), I learnt through experience and observation what it takes to build a best-in-class firm. Once I quit my first job, I did explore moving to a corporate communications role, but my heart was in consulting. A call from a professional acquaintance landed me our first account.

RT: How has PR evolved in India in the last 25 years that you have been part of it?

In some ways, it seems we have come a long way. In some ways, it seems like we are caught in a time warp. The advent of digital seemed threatening at first, but it has been the biggest ally of Public Relations. Lines between advertising, marketing and public relations have blurred. Every industry is in a state of flux. Public Relations – with its focus on stakeholder engagement and communication, as custodians of the message and as reputation guardians, is best poised to help companies make sense of the environment.

What excites me most is the recognition that Public Relations is key to reputation, by the C-Suite. Our ability to lead intelligent and meaningful conversations using data-driven insights is making a difference. Besides, ours is one business that has also given as much importance to execution.

Businesses are recognising that, and we are now being called upon to drive campaigns and concepts that have business impact. This is significant.

RT: What are the few elements that a brand needs in order to succeed in Public Relations?

A well-defined business strategy, access to C-Suite, focus on planning and execution built on a thorough understanding of the environment in which it operates in, and healthy budgets are absolutely critical for a brand to succeed in public relations.

RT: Recently in the first quarter of 2019, the spotlight was on The PRactice, when three senior leaders left the firm. And, you had stepped in as CEO – how did you manage the transition?

Support from the team, unstinted faith and support from clients and a lot of hard work has helped us manage the transition.

RT: Where do you plan to take the firm in the next five years?

The PRactice will continue on a steady growth path, staying committed to taking public relations to the board room. We are excited about the business impact true stakeholder engagement can achieve with the confluence of digital, design and content. We are excited that the language of public relations is resonating so well with the C-Suite. There has never been a better time for Public Relations, and we will continue to be at the forefront with our vision, thinking and ability to execute.

RT: How do manage to strike a balance between your professional and personal life?

I have always lived my life telling myself that I don’t live to work, but I work to live well. There is never such a thing as balance. This is something I have realised. I believe in maintaining a rhythm. This means immersing myself in work, business travel when I have to, and also enjoying a weekend, a vacation wholeheartedly. I watch out for guilt that has a way of sneaking in and upsetting that rhythm. I have learnt to keep guilt as far away from me as possible – well, most of the time.

RT: If a professional had to make a choice between being employed and self employed, what would help them arrive at a decision?

It is a choice one has to make; neither is easy.

RT: What is your advice to someone wanting to enter the PR consulting world?

The Public Relations professional today has to be comfortable with technology. Skills in analytics, managing and using digital tools, design, content development will soon be must-haves and not “good-to-have”. With the environment being volatile and dynamic, a sense of ethics, fearlessness to tread new ground, curiosity and an innate desire to learn are critical. Finally, look at Public Relations as a career and not merely a job.

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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