Friday, October 17, 2014

"Creating Public Relations awareness helps to enhance the image of the nation" - Richa Seth

Richa Seth working as Senior Accounts Manager at Adfactors PR, one of the leading Indian PR Agencies was recently honoured with ‘Ace Business Communicator’ (ABC)  Award for excellence in PR among the young Indian PR professionals.  She is one of the active members of ‘prpoint’ group moderated by me.  She is passionate about ‘Public Relations profession’ and always explores how the PR concept can help to develop the image of the Indian industry across the globe.  In a freewheeling email interview with me, Richa Seth explained her passion, her goal, achievements, disappointments, etc.  Excerpts:

Congratulations Richa for getting the PR Award at this young age.  What is the significance of this award? What is your feeling now?

Last month (Sep 2014), I received the prestigious ‘Ace Business Communicator (ABC) Award 2014’ during PRAXiS summit in the presence of senior PR and Corporate Communication professionals of our country.  It is a great morale booster for my career. 

Such recognition makes a lot of difference for mid-level practitioners like us, where we are constantly battling client, team and media expectations. Recognition of this kind helps you to be reassured about the choice you have made. There are enough platforms for senior level practitioners. Since, only a few such opportunities are available for professionals at our level, such awards will motivate us not only do more for the companies we work but also contribute back to the profession and to the nation indirectly.

How many years of experience you have in public relations field? Why did you chose PR as your career? Any specific incident that led you to take this decision

I have over 7 years of pure play PR experience.  It is quite interesting to know that I landed up in PR industry without any clue.  As a person born and brought up in Mumbai, during my childhood days, I wanted to become an ‘Air Hostess’. 

During my school and college days, I used to enjoy writing, organizing events. Unknowingly I was also involved in doing some PR for our college events. We used to meet a lot of journalists, invite them to be a part of our events and work with them to build stories around our events, but never thought that I will continue to do it as a full time profession.

After completing my graduation in 2007, when all my peers chose to pursue higher studies or profession, I had no clue what I wanted to do. Coincidentally when I met a senior batch mate of my college who was already pursuing a career in PR, she suggested me to go for an interview with Adfactors PR as they were looking at hiring some freshers.  Without thinking much, I opted to go for an interview with the Managing Director, who till date interviews each and every candidate across all levels. Neither was I prepared for the interview nor did I do any background reading on what PR agencies actually did. Surprisingly I was not scared or nervous.

The Managing Director didn’t ask me much about the profession except a few questions PR books which I read. The answer was obviously negative. It was a Friday and he asked me when I would like to join. With all excitement,  I told him that I wanted to join immediately on the same day. He smiled and asked me to join on the next Monday.  He advised me that I should join a professional course on PR and  read some books on PR.

I joined Adfactors PR in 2007 and completed a course in PR & Advertising at K.C. College and began my new journey into the unknown but elating. In 2009 I joined Masters Degree in Mass Communication with a Specialization in PR from Sikkim Manipal University through distance learning and completed it in 2012. In December 2011, I joined Edelman, another leading PR Agency.  In December 2013, I returned to Adfactors PR. 

What is your vision in PR career?  What steps are you taking to achieve your mission and vision?

During my 7 years of experience in PR profession, I had the opportunity of handling important clients and challenging situations.  I consider every challenge as an opportunity for me to learn.  Though Indian Industry is doing good, they do not have sufficient ‘PR awareness’ and hence they are not able to project their image globally in the competitive environment. 

My vision is to make an important contribution to society through effective communication and building reputation of corporates and associations. My mission is to showcase the value of effective communications (PR) to the CXO community across organizations and get a place at the boardroom discussions.  Ultimately, this will help to project the nation also.

I am constantly trying to upgrade my knowledge and skills to perform better than before. I proactively put myself through challenging mandates and enjoy the thrill of a turning around a
sour relationship. Rather than working for large clients and set mandates, I love to seek an opportunity to work for startups and unknown brands. Reading has now become a habit, after understanding and doing considerable amount of reading about PR,  I am now focusing more on broader marketing and strategic business development, human behavior and broader socio –economic developments.

I want to learn everything about India and its vast cultural diversities. I am actually on a long and very exciting journey, exploring new ideas, new thoughts and new thinking. I don’t know whether I will be a CEO or a leading Corporate Communicator but I am sure that it will be make me one of the best professionals in the country.

Apart from that I am also an avid blogger on PR & Social Media, introduced a weekly column PRQuest on a popular PR blog and have my own blog too: Keeping up with this mission, I also give guest lectures at various institutes on PR and Communication topics.  I help to organize short PR workshops and meet-ups for industry youngsters.

I also initiate discussions about macro environment impacting the business of reputation management, share insights through knowledge nuggets about media, PR and more on online discussion groups such as prpoint group, Indian PR Forum & Media Forum. I am one of the moderators of  Indian PR Forum.

I have seen many ladies with high level of PR passion drop out from the industry due to many reasons, including the family reasons. PR industry has lost many women professionals in the midway.   Will you sustain the PR passion and continue your career for long time. How do you feel that we can retain these passionate women professionals in the industry?

You are absolutely right many successful women PR practitioners slow down their career progression mid-way as they take a break during marriage, essentially to give priority to their family. Sometimes they come back albeit with the same vigor and they take a back seat in their career. This happens often as she is not the real bread earner in most Indian families and needs to give more time to being a homemaker. On an average a women who wants to come back loses 6 months to 2 years of an important phase of work life, pushing them slightly behind in meeting their career goals.  And as Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi very rightly said, “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”

As far as I am concerned, I am currently at the same crossroads as most women in the late 20’s
who are under societal and family pressure to get hitched. However educated ,the attitude of our society still remains unchanged. I get to hear, “Why are you running behind your career, you are a woman and will need to sacrifice/comprise/adjust your life for your husband and family.”

All said and done, I am not sure how much time I have left to get married but rest assured that whatever time I have in hand, I completely want to dedicate it to my learning, enhancing my knowledge about the communications industry and most importantly want to give back to the fraternity and to the society in whatever way I can. I will do my best to share my learning’s and mentor as many budding professionals in the industry. I endeavor to write a book that will share insights on Practical PR for budding professionals who aim to join the industry.

I believe that the PR industry can encourage women professionals by introducing flexi-work timings and work from home that can be monitored through stringent processes.

Generally, I find that many people joining PR industry take less interest in updating the knowledge.  Why this phenomena?  There are enough mentors in the industry.  But no takers.  Sustainability of interest is lacking.  I want your views on this.  How to improve the situation?

It is a very subjective situation as many youngsters who join the industry are often not mentored by their seniors about the role of a PR practitioner and immediately put on job to updating media lists and doing press release follow ups. Senior professionals do not dedicate enough time in training the youngsters about the nuances of the day-to-day work. They are sometimes not even involved in strategy planning meetings and in fact in some cases are not introduced to the clients as well. This is one of the reasons why youngsters lose interest in this profession.
This situation can be improved if the immediate seniors judge the capabilities of their team members and advise them about external courses as well that they can take up to become trained for the industry. PR consultancies should also organize training programs customized for people across all levels. The youth today is looking for ‘What is in it for me’, hence equipping them with technical knowledge and motivation from seniors will encourage them to be an active participant in this industry. 

Do you cherish any specific achievement during your PR career?

I would like to share an example of a brand by a start-up company that was solely built through a PR campaign, launch of a consumer product. We crafted the campaign in such a way that it was not just about a product launch, but about stalwartly placing India on the map of global innovators. The brand today has secured global recognition in the media such as Wall Street Journal, New York Post, etc., and in India there is hardly any media that has not covered it yet. Today without spending a rupee on advertising or direct marketing the brand has been able to receive over 50,000 pre-orders from individuals, funding from angel investors and partnership offers from global consumer technology brands.

Any specific incident that caused you disappointment. The lesson learnt out of the disappointment.

It was almost 6 months in my new job, by then most of us start thinking that we know everything in PR and even I was overflowing with confidence and the 'know it all attitude'. It was the last week of December and most of my senior colleagues were on leave as we do not expect major client activities in that season. But all of a sudden an email landed up from our client requesting us to arrange for a press conference as they had signed a major deal and it was important for them to announce it immediately before the news became stale. Panic struck my senior and they were in a dilemma to take the press conference forward as only few junior executives were manning the office.

I pretty confidently offered to manage the press conference and without much choice all of them agreed. Without wasting much time I got on to the job, drafted a media invite and shot it off to all the media I knew could come to cover the event. Sent out SMS’ and even tried to follow-up, some gave a typical response “someone will come” – I wrote a status as “confirmed”, some said – “will try” – I wrote “tentative” in my status sheet and some yelled – “I am vacationing” and banged the phone on me. On the D-Day, the press conference was scheduled to start at 12.00 Noon and I  reached late at about 11.45 am with one of my colleagues, expecting to find the client fuming. The wait started – 12.00 Noon – 12.15pm – 12.30 – 12.45 – only 4 guys turned up not because my invite had convinced them but because they got to know somehow that – here is the place that can offer them free lunch. It was a disaster, client left without saying a word. I didn’t understand whether to go back to office or leave the job. I called my senior who patiently listened and told me to relax as well as introspect and promised he will talk to the client and try to handle the situation.

My learning’s –

1)            It was a holiday season – most journalists were out on vacation
2)            I did not confirm from any source, validity of media list I was working on – most of the journalists either had changed their jobs or left journalism for good and one was no more
3)            I should have asked for help, I was not aware about the tricks of the trade, someone more experienced than me could have helped to salvage the situation
4)            I should have discussed with the client and could have tried to keep the client’s expectations low

Who is your role model in life and the profession?  Why?

In life my role model is my mother, who is a homemaker but has inspired me to be hardworking, sincere and persistent; these attributes form the fundamentals of my personal and professional life.  In the professional role, there are many role models to look upto such as, Chanda Kochhar, CEO of ICICI Bank under whose stewardship the bank has grown phenomenally. I also admire the courage and persistence of Indra Nooyi, CEO, Pepsi Co to strive and make a mark across the globe.

With your passion for PR, how do you want to serve the society as your 'Individual social responsibility', beyond serving the clients?

On the  professional side, I am trying to create PR awareness among  various industry people and also try to develop good professionals for the industry.  PR is needed to project the nation in the competitive environment.  On the personal side, I want to teach basics of English to the under privileged children studying in Municipal schools. 

I teach PR and I am a guest lecturer at various institutes in Mumbai, I encourage youngsters to join the PR industry by sharing with them the opportunities and exposure they will get from this field. Additionally, I am a moderator of Indian PR Forum and an active participant of discussions about macro environment impacting the business of reputation management, share insights through knowledge nuggets about media. The NGO with which, I was associated earlier dropped this project.  Now, I am looking for another NGO to help the under privileged children.

Thanks Richa for your responses.  I wish you more laurels.

Richa Seth can be reached at

Interviewed by Prime Point Srinivasan through email


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