Sheikh Sazid, Managing Editor of the Share Biz and Business Insider Bangladesh on his journey, the future of Bangladesh’s PR industry and how to connect in a better way with the world for attracting investors through the right kind of PR
Please tell us about your journey. You had a humble beginning. When you started, did you have a particular goal in mind?
I started my first job as a junior news reporter in a private radio channel in 2001. I got recognized in the journalism industry through that. Unfortunately, the radio channel was shut down in 2 years, so I joined the Prothom Alo in 2003 as a feature writer at Naksha and got introduced to fashion items and accessories’ promotions and public relations. This was two decades ago when opportunities were thriving in this sector. So I contacted a fashion house and discussed the long-term strategies of advertising and PR. I helped the brand create feature articles and used my journalism networking to publish them in different newspapers and magazines. I realized the importance of public relations and started working in different directions. I contacted Sisimpur, the Bangladeshi version of the children’s television series Sesame Street and shared my interest in working for their PR. Subsequently, I went to an interview at Asiatic, where Sara Zaker suggested that I join Asiatic Mindshare and use my networks in the journalism scene. So I contacted Asiatic Mindshare and started working there.
Through the exposure at Mindshare, I became more confident to work on individual PR assignments and undertook a significant government project named Violence Against Women and handled their PR and campaigning projects successfully using my multiple media resources. As they were happy with the outcome, my contract with them kept on renewing after every 6 months, and I ended up working there for 3 years. In these 3 years, I was able to accumulate different experiences to realize further possibilities in the business. I came to great working terms with the government, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and worked with Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, Sara Zaker on different projects. We organized exhibitions at the Shilpakala Academy and Public Library Premises, Russian Centre for Culture and Science, Alliance Française de Dhaka, and so on. Eventually, I left my previous job and I took these opportunities to work further. I organized film festivals for kids in different foreign cultural and educational centers around Dhaka city and ran two successful campaigns for kids. After two projects, we received funding from UNICEF for upcoming events. We invited the Prime Minister for our next event in 2009, and to my wonder, she accepted the invitation and graced the event. From there, a different journey of mine began in 2010.
As much we know later you started your own PR firm and started working with different government projects. Tell us more about that part of the journey.
I approached different government projects for PR service and campaigning. The board was satisfied with the PR solutions I offered and started handing me over different projects under government. It became clear to me that to communicate with the government, a facilitator has to have certain skills.
Finally, in 2016, I had the opportunity to take over a newspaper agency. I wanted to take over a company that was close to bankruptcy and try to salvage its relics into a renewed corporation. I approached the Destiny but due to some issues the takeover didn’t take place and the company went to bankruptcy. Then, I approached the Share Biz and offered them a deal that they weren’t willing to accept. Their demand was beyond my financial capacity and I gave up, but I didn’t leave hope at that front. Later, after 9 months, due to the fall in their shares in the business, they agreed to offer a price I could afford and I took the chance as soon as I got it. I always wanted to create a platform for reporters where sponsors and board members could not influence or exercise authority and the news is unbiased and objective. We started with this vision, and by the end of that year, we got updated from tabloid to broadsheet which was great initial progress for us. We started featuring share market news highlights at the time of the share market crisis which made an impact on the market and readers. But we could all slowly see the declining value of printed newspapers and the importance of online presence in the media. We realized it was our time to come out of the limitation of printing news in Bangla, and make a global footprint through online media coverage.
With that vision, we decided to launch an English online newspaper, Business Insider Bangladesh in 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the launch got postponed to 2021 and with the help of sponsors/financers, we were able to launch Business Insider Bangladesh this year. Due to the second wave, again our plans got interrupted, but I am hopeful this will subside and things will be better for the Business Insider Bangladesh soon.
You started your career as a reporter, then worked as a feature writer, ran campaigns for kids, and then shifted more towards hardcore business PR. What triggered our change of mindset?
When I worked for CIDA, we created different kinds of documentary dramas on different issues regarding Violence Against Women and broadcasted them on Channel i to spread alternate awareness. Nevertheless, since it was not broadcasted during peak hours, it didn’t reach a large number of viewers. So we printed out the synopsis of the docudrama along with pictures in 15 different newspapers every week, before the day of the broadcast—this made a positive impact on the number of viewers and contributed to the success of the campaign. I noticed the correlation between the printing content and rising TRP that motivated me to use my networks and run my own PR. This made me realize the role of PR in the corporate sector and mainstream business. I was eager to find different purposes of PR and imply my strategies and their possibilities. Also, working with CIDA and DANIDA inspired me to enter hardcore PR and make new networks.
You started your journey in 2001 and came across various dynamic phases. Help me compare the two times and map the evolving opportunities. What were the main difficulties faced then and how has the PR business emerged over time?
I always notice that it’s most difficult to understand people and make them understand your point of communication, too, that includes both parties in this scenario, the journalists and the government parties. Those who are service holders, barely understand the risks of the business and the effort that it requires for it to succeed. It’s is a common misconception that corporate industries are unfair and corrupted, and are stealing taxes and misleading employees. Sometimes, the problem is to even address what needs to be explained and recognized in the different stages of hierarchy. A facilitator can raise the rate of successful communication between parties and that is where my expertise comes in.
It is very interesting to know how Share Biz showed an affirmative response to your offer after 9 months and signed the deal. Indeed, you are good at the art of negotiation. What is your secret weapon?
For negotiation, you need to know the product or content and the issues related to it. When you want to buy something, you take different ways to go about it. We gather information and haggle our ways into acquiring the particular information we seek from the seller that would help you make your mind to invest in it. Vice versa when you highlight the selling points of your product or content. I had to keep on negotiating with the Share Biz owner for over 9 months through consecutive meetings to convince him to take my offer. I think my selling point was in making him realize the realistic possibility of the company in the upcoming months as their staff journalists were leaving the organization. A good negotiator is honest in getting the deal that the buyer needs and the investor wants, to find a win-win for both.
As you mentioned, there is a gap between the mindset of the governing bodies and the corporations and industries. What is the reason behind this mindset and what can we do to change it so that they can understand each other better?
I feel the government should take initiatives to train professionals of both government and private sector. The entrepreneurs and industries should have one-to-one sessions with the governing bodies to be able to understand each other better and find a win-win situation for both.
You have successfully set up the Share Biz, and you are on another new venture. How can you best identify a potential investor?
Everybody wants respect and recognition for the valued work and success of their lives, and the media helps them do that. There are still a lot of renowned entrepreneurs and corporations who do not know the benefits of PR solutions, and I want to reach out to them and use media to initiate growth, create networks and earn recognition and success. In the past 10 years, media coverage has been prominently beneficial to major industries of Bangladesh. A potential investor can be from any business that needs a facilitator to bridge the gap and ensure an effective outreach. At the moment, the media itself is a huge industry. It doesn’t pay well to be a part of it yet, but it has many useful aspects that induce growth in business. So when my visions align with the investors, I am confident to work with them.
How’re the investors meet in New York panning out?
I have come here to watch and learn how we can attract international investors and industries and make them take interest in our ventures. I went to Dubai for a roadshow couple of months ago and now I am visiting this meet. I want to see how our representatives and entrepreneurs are showcasing themselves at the international market and what that brings in the upcoming years. I feel Bangladesh needs more advanced PR strategies. I want to identify the lacking in our PR. By connecting in a better way with the international market in upcoming years we can bolster the multilateral relations with different countries.
People seek validation through media presence and assertions. Is Bangladesh taking any step to collaborate with the international media through advertising?
No, Bangladesh is yet to show its mettle in that area. Many journalists who have written significant pieces and have been published worldwide should actually have been here attending this roadshow. This is something I think I will suggest as I share my feedback with the distinguished authorities when I go back.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
I believe in bridging the gap. The gap could be between people, agencies, or countries. My dream would be to connect Bangladesh internationally to the globe and bridge the gap between countries around the world.
You have mostly been associated with the media for most of your life? What other businesses do you intend to do in the future?
I am a consultant for government and public relations. I have worked with many corporations, businesses, and banks, too. I have worked as a consultant for several foreign embassies and helped them explore opportunities here in an effort to cement ties with Bangladesh. I enjoy all aspects of my work, and I plan to keep on doing them as long as I can.