In Conversation with Rishi Seth

Expressing his excitement at starting a new journey was Rishi Seth, the Group CEO for BCW, when they hit the news recently. This was when the firm unveiled its new brand identity, 6° BCW, and he hoped for higher growth prospects, through integrated marketing services.

Rishi shares the fact that his entry into Public Relations was by “accident”. Tracing his journey, with over 22 years of experience in marketing and communications, he co-founded Six Degrees PR in 2009 along with Zacharia James. The firm got acquired in 2014 by Cohn & Wolfe, a WPP Group Company and is now part of BCW network.

Prior to starting Six Degrees, Rishi was the Managing Director for Text 100 India. He has also had stints with Genesis PR (today known as Genesis BCW) and Perfect Relations.

In a lucid interview with Shree Lahiri, Rishi explains what led to the creation of Six Degrees, the alliance with Cohn & Wolfe and how the business of Public Relations consulting is evolving in India along with some words of wisdom for aspiring career seekers.

RT: What led to the creation of Six Degrees PR?

Having worked in the area of public relations for a considerable time, Zach and I realised that there is always space for communication firms, which are agile to address client needs and have consulting strength to generate value beyond execution. Six Degrees was an effort to implement our learnings during our professional tenures into an entrepreneurial venture and validate our take on client engagement, strong team building and ethics in communications. Six Degrees PR provided us with a platform to share our beliefs and experiences with our clients, team and other stakeholders.

RT: With over 20 years of diverse work experience ranging from political and corporate affairs to consumer and technology PR, how has the journey been?

Entry into Public Relations was by accident but eventually became my profession of choice. My work span has provided me with tremendous opportunity to learn and develop all the time. This is one profession, where you will get weeded out or left behind if you get complacent. I have had the good fortune to work across different services, size of organisation, type of sector and need of client.

Working across almost two and a half decades of public relations, gives you a bagful of insights and learnings, though some of the most interesting experiences will remain within the confines of NDA’s and confidentiality!

Looking ahead, digital and an interconnected era has reignited the field of communications and we will see disruption and innovation at an exponential rate. It provides everyone an opportunity to grow their skills, find their position on the leadership table and demonstrate knowledge. It is also a business filled with youth and energy – which keeps you on your toes all the time to match their pace!

RT: How did the alliance with Cohn & Wolfe come about?

Around 2014, five years into its life, as Zach and I started to think about the next phase for growth of the organisation, we realised that we needed a partner to support us with new skills like digital or consumer, stronger access to international markets and a strong brand to attract a larger talent pool. After talking to multiple firms, Cohn & Wolfe was an ideal fit for us and connected strongly in culture. Importantly, Donna Imperato is a fantastic leader and has been a great support for us. Engaging with her gave us confidence to move ahead with Cohn & Wolfe then and BCW now.

RT: Tell us more about Alphabet Consulting.

Alphabet Consulting is actually older than Six Degrees and started out as a content company more than 11 years back. At that time, it was one of pioneers of outsourcing high-end content to international markets – something which some of the global firms are trying to do. However, over the years it has expanded into Public Relations and today has a good set of its own organic clients. While it is not as large as Six Degrees, the quality of work done on the content and public relations side by this firm is great, due to an experienced and talented team. It has an enviable client list with names like Nokia, Tata Motors on the content side alongside PayU and Amadeus for public relations.

RT: How do you see the business of Public Relations consulting evolving in India?

I think the business of public relations consulting is going through a disruption cycle on multiple fronts in India. On the business side, we have seen consolidation of larger Indian firms, primarily through acquisition but then, a number of new firms with experienced professionals have started up again. From a talent pool side, I see the need for many more people, who are ready for an integrated communications environment. At the same time, a large number of professionals will need to reskill themselves, especially in the 8+ experience bracket as the client ask is fast changing.

On the service portfolio side, public relations firms have an opportunity to do so much more and get into conversations beyond corporate reputation and influence. Therefore, the engagement size and nature is going through an overhaul and I think eventually, some firms will find this as a time to leapfrog in scale, service and skill, while some will perish/stagnate in this time of change.

RT: Can you tell us about the secret your of your partnership with Zacharia James?

I think the bedrock of the partnership is a great friendship and working together for 14 years before we became co-founders and business partners. The fact that we got along as people and trusted each other without question, is the reason that this business relationship has been successful .

RT: You started your career in rural marketing. How would you comment on the changes that have happened in this area?

I haven’t kept track of developments in rural marketing. Though from the time when I used to work in this area, there is much more media and internet penetration to reach the target audience. In the mid-nineties, one had to go on ground and meet with potential customers direct. I also think it is a much bigger and wider market for the organised sector now – at that time very few consumer companies addressed the rural market due to its purchasing power.

RT: What is your impression of the new set of PR professionals?

I think the new talent pool that is coming in is much more educated, articulate and confident than I or many entrants were at the time, when we started our careers. They come better prepared and have strong ambition to succeed. Some areas where I think the new professionals need to focus are: patience – you don’t earn the trust of the client and your manager in a matter of weeks!; second is team work – working together requires skill and experience; third is depth of knowledge – reading and research need to be at the core – public relations needs knowledge not only of communications but also your client’s business.

RT: Do have any word of advice for a youngster, aspiring to make a career in PR?

Join this profession if you are good with challenge, change and communication. Don’t join it for meeting/speaking to people; it offers a window to celebrities and glamour and also wants a stable job description.

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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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