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February 17, 2016

Natasha Mudhar: Shaper of Opinions

Text by Ranjabati Das

Here’s why Natasha Mudhar’s consultancy Sterling Media is a global leader in PR

Today, it’s a universally acknowledged fact that any celebrity or corporate worth their salt must have a clever public relations team on their payroll. It’s often the PR machinery that helps score that last-minute match-winning goal that changes the playing field entirely. And this art, social science, or marketing tool — whatever you choose to call it — is one that Natasha Mudhar, CEO and managing director of business and communications consultancy, Sterling Media, knows inside out.

Citing her mother Teji Singh, who founded the company, as her primary source of inspiration, the 32-year-old who has recently won the Media Professional of the Year award at the Asian Media Awards, rewinds to its beginning. “A chance opportunity came up when my mother was asked to join the news and current affairs team at UK’s first Asian television channel, TV Asia. This paved the way for the launch. When my mother started the company it was just her, a computer, her cell phone and two assistants!”

The channel was owned by Amitabh Bachchan at that time, which was when the company’s association with him (that is still going strong) started. Like her mother, Mudhar is ambitious, and “motivated by how effective communications can bring good initiatives closer to people”.

When she joined the enterprise a decade ago, she knew exactly what she wanted — to conquer the world.

“I took over the reins and set off on my mission to develop the company into a global business that links corporates, celebrities and governments internationally.”

Every fairy tale, though, has a villain. Even in a multicultural city like London, where the company is headquartered, highly successful women of Indian origin, particularly in this sector, are an anomaly. The media is also still quite male-dominated. “It was a case of double discrimination,” says Mudhar. “These factors may seem intimidating, but they were my drivers as well.”

Surprisingly some of the more scathing judgments were passed by her own peers and clients, who believed that her work only extended to the Indian diaspora. Unveiling a luxury brand like Aston Martin in an emerging market like India on the one hand and organising a ticketed interview with Al Pacino in venues across the UK on the other, the bias couldn’t be more uncalled for. While Mudhar did focus intently on communicating India’s success story, that in no way defined her limits.

Keeping pace with the times, a smart entrepreneurial move on her part was founding the Ethnic Marketing Division. “By 2050 it is predicted that ethnic minorities will make up one-third of the UK population. The step was a reflection of the complexities that multinationals were facing when trying to market their products to diverse audiences. Over the years, our work has expanded to cover global outreach programmes too.”

Mixed feelings about her field are common: some still see it as a kind of gimmickry although others have conceded to PR being an influencer of public opinion. She manages to take it in her stride: “I feel PR as an industry needs more positive PR!” She admits “that it is a form of promotion, as is advertising or even journalism”, adding that it’s ignorance that plays culprit here. “People are still not au fait with its value and the power that lies in PR to make, break or elevate brands. The soft power of brands has great potential in linking people together towards a goal. Brands should demonstrate social good and adopt the role of transformative agents.”

The latest feather in the entrepreneur’s cap is being appointed the India director for film-maker and charity champion Richard Curtis’ Global Goals campaign. The international project is supported by the United Nations, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, The Huffington Post and a host of businesses and NGOs. The goal is to teach seven billion people in seven days about the Global Goals for Sustainable Development — a series of targets to reduce inequalities and tackle climate change by 2030 — that were agreed upon at the UN General Assembly last September. It’s her job to provide consultancy, project management, production and execution in India. So far, she has roped in the likes of A R Rahman, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif to demonstrate the role of cinema in driving social change.

The 20-year-old consultancy is also accredited with changing the mindset of the mainstream press in Britain towards Indian cinema which even 10 years ago was considered “a niche genre — not even as an industry”. In line with her vision to popularise the Indian film industry, she was appointed  the international communications director for the last edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Judging by film critic, anchor and festival director Anupama Chopra’s shout-out to Mudhar on Twitter — “for ensuring the sound of Mumbai Film Fest is heard across the world” — she did a fine job. We can tell praise from plug.

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