India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
May 14, 2009

PR-adigm Shift

Text by Sona Bahadur. Photographs by Nilesh Acharekar

Substance over spin. PR beyond press. Web 2.0-based tools. A group of young, dynamic and stylish women PR entrepreneurs with uniquely creative approaches to communications are revolutionising the boutique space of lifestyle PR by pushing typical boundaries. Key agents of awareness and change, they’re playing a vital role in connecting and shaping New India by innovating media solutions and building strong brand identities. Verve explores their lives in PR as well as the PR in their lives, zooming in on how they live, dress, work and play

More than half a decade ago, Tanya Kapadia woke up to smell the coffee about creative public relations as she worked on her very first assignment with Mocha. Using a unique mix of marketing and PR, she helped create cutting-edge communities like the Mocha Film Club, the Mocha Bikers Association and the Mocha Backpackers Club. The runaway success of the venture launched a media solutions company called id8. The tagline is apt: ‘From ideas to identity’.

Sherry-eyed Srimoyi Bhattacharya of Peepul Consulting, with her haute couture approach to PR, places huge importance on technology, innovating with cutting-edge HTML press releases and online showrooms for her select clients.

Aashish Hiramanek, a veteran in the business for 13 years, brainstorms cost-effective PR solutions in tune with the recession. Sharlene Batlivala, relatively new in the business, though no less dynamic, combines PR with advertising to offer value-added service to her clients in art, entertainment and hospitality.

Living the exclusive lifestyle they promote, these chic communicators are united by their striking work ethic as well as their keen fashion sensibility, their discerning eye for art, their love for the good life and a strong streak of social responsibility that reflects in the work they do with NGOs. Meet the multifaceted charmers.

Tanya Kapadia,
29, id8

The PR Woman I started my career handling PR for Mocha. One client led to six and I decided to start id8 in 2002. The company started with two people working out of home. Today we have a 17-person office in Bandra. Clients include La Perla, Tommy Hilfiger, designers like Manish Malhotra and Raghuvendra Rathore, Sula Vineyards, Carlsberg Beer, Elite Model Management, Montblanc watches and jewellery, Jimmy Choo, The InterContinental Marine Drive and Zenzi. I have invented my style as I’ve gone along. I believe PR is not about being fake. It’s about being real and having the ability to project that reality to put out a good product.

The Innovator A lot of PR agencies work as media agencies. We don’t. PR is not just about getting media space. It’s about being able to understand the brand and being able to project that brand in the right light across different audiences of people through various means. It could be marketing, cross-branding, strategic communication, even introducing individuals to that space or brand. The idea is to not be selfish. If you’re working with the brand, you’re with them a 100 per cent.

The Fashionista I like clean, straight and simple, not too much bling and subtle colours. My dressing style is not too formal. I might wear jeans with a shirt and a nice belt and closed shoes.  Or a skirt with ballerinas. I love chappals. My most cherished wardrobe possession is a Shantanu & Nikhil churidar kurta which I picked up for Diwali last year. My only LV bag was gifted to me when I was 17. I’m very comfortable in saris thanks to my mother who has been making me wear them since I was a teenager. I prefer chiffons in vibrant colours with old zari borders and a nice halter blouse and jewellery, especially kundan.

The Art Lover This business has made me appreciate art. I bought my first painting by Gautam Patole, a young artist, while doing an art auction for Ramola Bachchan two years ago. It’s a charcoal on canvas called The Elephant Tussle.

The Person Life is about work, home, a few friends, and my two labradors, Buddy and Duchess. I like to keep it simple. I’m lazy and love to sleep. Sydney Sheldon is my favourite author. I just finished reading The Pirate’s Daughter and loved Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s The Last Song of Dusk. I’m listening to The Power of Now on audio-book. I like partying when there’s an occasion. I love bars and wish Mumbai had more of them.

The Visionary  Lifestyle PR cannot be worked on a mass scale. Luxury brands are all personalised so the scope for the boutique space is huge in PR. We are getting into niche marketing in a big way. I want Id8 to be an international standard full-service boutique agency with honesty and integrity.

Srimoyi Bhattacharya,
36, Peepul Consulting

The PR Woman  I began my career 15 years ago, working at a leading PR pan-European agency in Paris which is now part of the Fleishman-Hillard group.  In 2003, I joined Vikram and Sant Chatwal’s independent hotel group in New York , where I was heading all communications. Peepul was founded in New York in April 2006, when we realised there was a huge opportunity in the US-India corridor. We were lucky to work with the “Best Of” Indian companies in the US : Jet Airways, Cobra Beer, Zee Network, the Mahindra Group. We’re a three people team. I feel the service we provide is like haute couture, completely customised to each account.

The Innovator I’m very passionate about Web 2.0 tools in PR and marketing. Technology plays a huge part in our company, whether it’s trying to reach out through blogging or more interactive press releases. We are setting up an online showroom for our designer clients to facilitate buyer and media relations. PR is turning into more of a branding and a marketing exercise and going way beyond press releases. Good PR is about creating a virtuous communication cycle. The press, tradeshows and events, online tools, speaking opportunities, connecting to the fashion fraternity…it’s like a complete circle and each segment is exciting.

The Art Lover  My father was an ethnomusicologist. My mother is an art dealer so we were surrounded by music and art. In Paris where I grew up, I am privileged to call artists like Raza, Shakti Burman, Jogen Chowdhury family friends. I own small paintings by Jamini Roy and Paritosh Sen, whom I had known since I was five.

The Fashionista My personal style is very feminine and playful. I love the cuts and silhouettes by Vizyon and Sir Alistair Rai, my clients. For Indian fusion, I wear Nikasha, whose jamdani dhoti pants are a must-have. I also love Chloë, Marc Jacobs and Matthew Williamson. Most of my accessories are from NY. I like handbags from Felix Rey and Botkier. I wear French designers and jewellery brands – Paul & Joe, Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, Antik Batik, Agatha. My wardrobe is a bit of a global souk with mainly independent designers. Saris are like my second skin. I love cotton saris made by artisans in Shantiniketan.

The Visionary Thanks to my earlier job, I was lucky to work with The Clinton Foundation. I wish to do more NGO work and continue shaping my job as a brand consultant. On the fashion scene, we’re discovering all these amazing stores that are working at recognising independent talent. We are all part of this metamorphosis, the little elements and molecules that are shaping New India.

Aashish Hiramanek,
36, Tandem Communications

The PR Woman The rationale behind our company was to have a boutique agency to service clients in lifestyle encompassing fashion, beauty, art, etc. I and my partner Meghna Shah christened ourselves Tandem Communications since a large part of our job is working with others. Clients include M.A.C Cosmetics, Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, Surily Goel, Piaget, White Window by Twinkle Khanna, Leiber, Christie’s, Birla Lifestyle, RWITC and the Mumbai Boat Show, among others. We place a premium on credibility, passion and choosing the right clients. Getting our client to be a party face about town is not on our radar. Clients should be known for their contributions to their field and to the community. A memorable PR moment was the Abu-Sandeep fundraiser for Ashray which helped to build an adolescent shelter.

The Innovator Public Relations goes beyond just getting articles published in the paper. It’s about enhancing reputation, standing out in a crowd and organising events by creating word-of-mouth publicity. In today’s market, it’s important to offer the client cost-effective solutions. For example downsizing events, innovative info packs, cross-client tie ups. A great way to build reputation is to recommend goodwill or charity activities. Even if the motives are suspect, I find validation because good comes out of it.

The Fashionista  For work I have a wardrobe full of ‘correct’ black dresses/white shirts. I like eclectic clothes that reflect my style which is relaxed, fun, boho and mostly casual. My most cherished wardrobe item is an Abu-Sandeep sari. Then there is a lovely backless black dress I have never worn (I just stare at it!). Currently I am into belts so a jewelled belt from my holiday in Spain and a mother-of-pearl belt from Malaga are favourites.

The Schmoozer Sea Lounge was my absolute favourite for meetings before 26/11. I party infrequently, much prefer to just hang with friends for dinners and movies. I do go to Blue Frog when my favourites are performing.

The Person I’m idealistic yet pragmatic, a perfectionist at work but can be quite lazy at home. When work is stressful, I dream about being at a beautiful beach. My iPod is a confused mix of retro, blues, trance and pop.

The Visionary I take cues from international PR practices and adapt them to India and look for strategies on how to make small changes that make a big difference. PR practices abroad are quite different. I’d like to lobby to initiate policy changes. Since I am an idealist by nature, I feel there is so much that could be changed—governance, high taxes, publishing of unwarranted articles, superfluous bans. Maybe soon things will change!

Sharlene Batlivala,
32, Communiqué

The PR Woman After working for publications like Verve and Medianet (Times of India), I started Communiqué in 2006. The company specialises in lifestyle brands. We promote a lot of restaurants, nightclubs and bars like Oba and art galleries like Cymroza Art Gallery and Vikram Sethi’s gallery. Shiamak Davar is among my clients. We’ve also just started getting into Bollywood. I just did a charity event with Ashika Pohoomul for an organisation called Apne Aap, which empowers women.

My PR mantra is that no client is too big or small. I put in the same amount of effort into an SRK film and the smallest restaurant or art gallery. But something has to be PR-able to work. I’ve outgrown parties and events with time. I find the planning stage the most creative. The one thing I don’t like about PR is that there is a lot of chamchagiri. It’s not who I am as a person.

The Innovator Communiqué also functions as a marketing and media buying agency. This is a service we offer our clients over and above PR. We have handled advertising campaigns in print, outdoor, etc. We help them with direct mailing to their customers as well. When you are promoting a brand you have to think like the brand and take ownership. PR in India is evolving into brand consultancy. Companies are getting involved in event planning and concepts.

The Fashionista My personal style is very casual and simple. I’m a jeans and tee person and hate formals. I’d rather be underdressed than overdressed. Clothes should fit well, look good and be smart. I’m partial to a strapless denim dress I bought at a street in Istanbul. Favourite brands are Bebe, Mango and Zara. I’m not into couture, perhaps because I’m tiny and small built. Everyone tells me I dress like a teeny-bopper! I’m not into brands. My first and only branded bag is a classic Louis Vuitton gifted to me by my husband on my birthday. My husband realised I was thinking about buying it and surprised me. I like to wear jeans to an art event or a restaurant opening. At corporate events, like the recent launch of Folkswagon for which we did the lifestyle PR, I wore pants and a formal shirt. I enjoy shopping at Galleria and Bandra boutiques like Kink and Be You.

The Art Collector I’ve started liking art only now. I knew nothing about it before I started my PR business. Then I began getting a lot of work with art galleries and appreciating art. I own art by Jagannath Paul, Mrityunjay Mondal and Suryakant Lokhande.

The Person I love reading, especially classics. My favourite author is Jane Austen. Currently I’m reading Persuasion. I play tennis every evening if I can. I also play the piano, which I find soothing. I’ve been married three years. My husband and I have a lovely life with lots of friends. He is my rock and 100 per cent behind me.

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