Once upon a time there was a wide-eyed girl who knew she had landed her passion when she entered the world of Public Relations. Communications being the larger area of the decided interest, she tried her hand at Brand Consulting and PR. The latter being her surprising but natural choice – in the era of brand consulting being the coolest thing to do everyone wondered why choose PR? Was it a covered-up compromise? She thought the contrary. Where else would she get the corporate life, working with CEOs – advising them as an expert and yet be able to hone her creativity in writing, crafting meaningful stories and never getting bored – ever!
I look back at that girl and realise what a long way she has come to become the person I am today. Grateful for the experiences along the way and forever indebted to this profession which gave me the chance and embraced me with open arms.
It all began with going Dutch!
In Public Relations since the past 15 years, I started my entrepreneurial journey 10 years ago. Starting from scratch with only five years of experience to show, was an admitted risk. But a measured one nevertheless. It all begins with one client. The one client who see’s you only for your work and nothing else. Our first big client was the Embassy of Netherlands. Doing PR for a brand is one thing, but when that brand is an entire country it is quite something else.
I think the only thing that worked there was a lot of hard work. At that point they were one of the only embassies who had hired a full time PR consultancy. The work was disparate – from science and technological innovations to economic relations to fashion and food. We covered pretty much everything Dutch! In retrospect, that was probably one of the most powerful launch-pads for us. A bootcamp in a certain respect, preparing us for everything to come thereafter.
Specialisation as a strategy
After surviving year one, I realised that a game plan is needed to make my entrepreneurial journey more sustainable. A metaphoric shopping mall came to mind where all clients were the shoppers and all PR firms were in different forms of retail. Before realising where I fit in, I first knew what I didn’t want to be. At the end of the five years spent between consultancy life and corporate communications, I observed some gaps – largely basis perception between what the reality is on both sides of the fence. Being able to bridge that gap would mean letting go of certain things. Being a generalist was one such thing. I knew that given the current state of the shopping mall with so many one-stop-shops I had to find another way to stand out. Be a preferred choice for a select few – be a designer boutique store. Which basically meant, choosing a specialised field to emerge as an expert. At that point two promising and unexplored areas were sports and luxury. The 2008 Commonwealth Games had put India on a spotlight as a potential new hub for sports offering eyeballs and sponsorships to globally established entities who were facing a saturated market in the west. Luxury brands – on the other hand were also looking for a more boutique set-up and in fact showed hesitation in being with the traditionalist PR firms. They needed special attention and a different kind of an approach. A deep-dive into these sectors while always maintaining a healthy base of corporate clients helped build sustainability and growth for the firm.
Why compete when you can collaborate
In a few years, I got comfortable in my specialised skin. The popular notion of FOMO went away, and I trained myself to grow a deeper and narrower experience for long term benefit. It ended up also having some immediate gains. Not trying to compete with most companies eliminated the word competition to a large extent. We could consider collaborating with other PR firms which needed a plug and play for our specialised fields. We similarly could also collaborate with specialised firms in other areas of communications often bundling our services with them. In 2012, we collaborated with Blue Mango Films to work together on an Olympic project for Arcelor Mittal – the Mittal Champions Trust. Stand-alone to work with such a big global entity would not have been possible. Getting this window of opportunity with Blue Mango was a great way to win future opportunities.
The Power of the Network
The communications community is, in my mind, a tight unit. Relationships go a long way and sometimes building those is more important than building billings. 80% of our work over the past ten years has come via referrals. Referrals from within the industry, from clients, from journalists as well as partner agencies. Building trust and doing your genuine best is important. I also try not to give in to the temptation of generalising the client and the media. It is important to see the human beings behind these layers and offer them the best of your professional capabilities with a good doze of empathy and a genuinely no strings attached approach. Once we loosen our grip on what we want out of ambition to what we receive out of credibility the power of the network truly shows results. I, of course have to remind myself of this every time I lose a competitive pitch!
Dealing with the dumps
But we are obviously not in la la land. I have received my fair share of brick & bats too. Loosing clients is the worst. I still remember the day we lost our first big client – the Dutch doors shutdown on us due to budget cuts, three years into the relationship. When we were told that they were moving on, I felt like I had lost my Lucky Strike (ref: Mad Men). Sports PR also, initially was a seasonal business. October to February were the only real months of work and sustaining a team through the summer was hard. But in all such situations, the idea is to remain positive and think of what you can do in that moment to make it better. And then something happens – to instil your self-belief back in place and carry on; a bit wiser and humbled from the experience.
There is no other way. When you choose to be a vagabond entrepreneur and decide to let go of the roles, designations and internal reportage, you have to share that freedom with the people who choose to work with you. In doing so they are letting go of stability and familiarity and taking that risk to do things differently. This risk they take for you must be rewarded. Having a truly empowered team is the only way. Everyone has something unique to offer or grow into. I would be a complete hypocrite if I don’t share what was given to me when I started out. No bias basis age, experience or designation but growth purely basis hard work, passion and merit. Each employee is a future entrepreneur. Within these ten years, three of my ex-colleagues now run their own entrepreneurial venture. That to me is a true measure of what I’ve been able to give back to the industry that has given me so much!
Growing up to double digits
So now it’s been ten years of this. What next? A person I respect a lot from this profession threw a question many years ago on how to grow big yet remain small. I feel it is a very pertinent point which I must address as my firm moves along into the next decade. To retain the entrepreneurial spirit of newness, to constantly try to innovate and yet grow your firm into what it deserves to be. That is the challenge, that is the quest!
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.