Sabrina Zaman, Chief Executive (CE), Impact PR

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Connecting All the Dots

Impact PR has been making groundbreaking strides for going on 15 years. Helming the country’s first PR firm, Sabrina Zaman elucidates the need to establish an industry for a more effective PR permeation in the collective consciousness.

Why do you think Bangladeshi companies are increasingly leaning towards PR firms in a magnitude never seen in the past?
To be precise, speaking strictly about Bangladeshi companies are still not ready. Whenever we are approached by Bangladeshi companies, it is mostly because they require crisis management. When it comes to crisis management, Bangladesh companies are able to understand the magnitude of the media, the impact of the media. Apart from that, the idea of PR firms as a support system in the business model has not been realized. Most of our clients are retailer based, so whether they need PR support or not, they retain the services – like how you would with a lawyer.

You can’t jump into somebody’s business and start designing PR strategies and crisis contingency plans. It doesn’t work like that. For example, if I am servicing a telecom company, I have to be well versed with the industry first and have an all-round and in-depth understanding of the industry. It helps PR firms like us to do our due diligence if the client understands our need to for full scale comprehension of their operations. It allows us to be consistent in the media and to our stakeholders as well. This fact escapes most Bangladeshi companies even today. It is crucial to establish and sustain trust, because we are not here for the short haul. We are here for the long haul.

In regards to MNCs, yes there has been a huge change in the last 5-6 years. There has been a massive change and it has dawned on them that there is indeed a market for PR firms. There are services you can get out of PR that are very beautiful, and which cannot be done in any other way. MNCs are realizing that PR is important in the Bangladeshi market.

What do you think helped permeate the importance of PR in the minds of Bangladeshi consumers today?
Awareness really drove the inception. Media has become more vigilant in many ways when it comes to tending to customer desires and demands. The market is also growing, disposable income is growing, the middle class is solvent and this is reflected in the consumer market. The emerging middle class is pretty well educated. However, when you look at our political scenario, the efforts are usually made to tailor messages for the grassroots, but even the grassroots level is becoming more aware. They are also looking for better options – the option that will allow them to secure a settled livelihood and three proper meals a day. When the mass population’s awareness grows, PR is ripe for the taking, because people are actually focusing on the media (TV/print media/radio/social media) to observe the kind of messaging being run. PR is less expensive and more effective.

In the past entities seeking PR services usually, went to foreign PR firms; do you think local firms like yours have the edge over them?
We have been doing PR in the Bangladesh market for the last 15 years. We have established a rapport with the Bangladesh market as such that international PR firms will not be able to match up to. As Impact PR, if we go to the Indian market, the British market, we won’t be able to survive, because PR operations more often than not stick to local experiences. Practising PR is all about networks, it is all about your local market, how people are talking, how the media is engaging. The experience you need to understand these facets of PR didn’t happen overnight. I couldn’t have listed the necessities of PR if I were asked back in 2005, but because we have practised PR in the Bangladesh market, our experience makes us the best in the market.

What has been the most effective medium to engage with (clients/customers) in Bangladesh?
As we say, the media is the battlefield of everything that happens in the country, because that’s where the conversations actually start. The media platforms have evolved – from TV, to print and now consumers and companies alike lean towards online platforms and social media is playing a very big role in reaching out to customers. Impact PR uses all these tools in their PR initiatives.

What has your role as the Chief Executive (CE) of Impact PR taught you about leadership?
I am a natural leader. I have always led, be it in school, in college and even in university. I joined Impact PR as the Account Director. I used to look after all the monetary aspects and manage them and also coordinate. Some people are born creative, and while I work with content myself, I wouldn’t consider myself a creative, but I like leading. I have been leading Impact PR for 13 years and running, and my team consists of hardworking, dedicated and passionate individuals who are a pleasure to lead.

What is your vision for Impact PR in a decade from now? Are there any personal goals you want to achieve?
Whenever we discuss the future of Impact PR, we deliberate that a PR industry needs to grow. There is no PR industry as such in Bangladesh, because in the greater scheme of things, we are still infants. The oldest PR company – us – is only 15 years old. Whenever we work with clients, we work with industries. A decade from now, the goal should be to establish an industry and be able to say that Impact PR has been in the forefront of leading the helm. When we first launched, we reached out to all the advertising media agencies in Bangladesh and they initially discouraged us because there was no sign of a PR industry. But nowadays, you get to see a creative agency, an advertising agency and a PR agency side by side. We have been able to give PR a trajectory and have been successful in making it a priority. The next phase is having an industry, where competition will be healthier, and market prices will be stable and consistent.

Speaking on the personal front. In another decade, I want to retire and travel. Travelling makes up most of my bucket list. Initially when Facebook started, they had this map and it allowed you to log in the places you had traveled to. According to Facebook, I have seen 6.5% of the world. I want to travel and spend my money.

Closing Statement: The disheartening fact is there is still not a budget allocated for PR. PR firms need to push their services and have a positive foothold. Also we need extensive training to impart the importance and know-how of PR. All of us here at Impact PR began as fresh graduates. Sometimes it becomes difficult to find Managers. Sometimes we joke that it should have been called Impact PR School, because more often than not we have instilled skills in completely inexperienced individuals. These individuals have then gone on to find better opportunities and climb the career ladder with the skills learned from Impact PR. There is a sense of achievement in that, but also a sense of loss because we have to repeat the process with yet another inexperienced, untrained recruit. Given that all of the agencies work in their set pattern, it can become difficult to replenish lost skills. Impact PR’s advantage in having an early start is that it has allowed us to become seasoned. If you asked me 6 years back to explain PR, I would have said it is a culmination of press releases, article writing and interviews. But, today I can tell you that PR is an organic process which relies on strategies designed for a substantial period which envisions where the client endeavors to reach in a given timeframe. PR work is challenging and exciting, and you have to be willing to roll with the punches in order to grow. In Bangladesh we are one of the first and oldest firms, and we learn something every day. Our clients come and present us with situations that really get our brain juices flowing and for that I want to thank them. If it wasn’t for the support and confidence of my clients, it would have been difficult to evolve. We are evolving every day, and doing new things every day which is something we are very proud of, and we hope to continue this momentum well into the future.

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