Pros We Love: Daljit Bhurji, Co-founder, Diffusion PR

Daljit Bhurji (@Daljit_Bhurji) is co-founder of Diffusion PR, an award-winning international integrated communications agency, with offices in London and New York. He brings almost 20 years of public relations experience as an adviser to some of the world’s leading brands, companies and political organisations. Daljit leads the consultancy’s work in developing strategic, creative and measurable campaigns that deliver real results to the bottom line.

Beginning his career launching start-ups during the dotcom era, Daljit now guides new, established and challenger brands alike, through an equally transformative period for business and communication.

Helping clients to successfully co-ordinate PR in multiple markets and then integrate campaigns across traditional media, digital and social media channels is central to the work Daljit has implemented for brands and organisations spanning the consumer, technology, retail and travel sectors.

Daljit tells us why launching an agency can leave you feeling a like a contestant on The X Factor.

How did you get into PR?

I had an early love for the media world. I remember as a teenager religiously buying the Sunday Times and then spending most of the rest of the day, much to the annoyance of my mother, slowly devouring every single section and supplement. I was fascinated by the content, but also the process of journalism and creating a newspaper week after week.

At university I got the chance to write for and then edit the student newspaper. As well as the opportunity to occasionally interview somebody famous, there was also the gruelling thrill of pulling all-nighters to get the paper to the printers, before grabbing two-hours of sleep before that morning’s tutorial.

It was a brilliant experience and I was offered an entry role by a national newspaper, but I realised that I was more attracted to the commercial side of the communication business. After graduating, I responded to a small advert in the Media Guardian for an as yet unnamed PR agency start-up, which was looking to hire its first two graduates. It was a unique, challenging but amazing start to a career in PR.

I miss all that care free time at weekends now, but I can still recall laughing out loud at both AA Gill’s restaurant reviews and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s Diary of an IT Girl column, though for very different reasons. It’s sad they are both no longer with us, but the need for talented new journalists has perhaps never been greater.

What do you love about your job?

I think you start your career being sustained by the instant gratification of generating amazing coverage.  Today, what I love is seeing how those outputs turn into business outcomes that can help transform the brands that we work with.  Modern PR is crossing boundaries and stretching across the organisation beyond the confines of traditional marketing.  That means the role of a PR agency are constantly shifting and evolving.  At Diffusion we can be working with clients on a full re-brand and repositioning project one day and then the next helping to hire and train a team to run their social customer care function.

The challenge for the PR industry as its role continues to broaden and evolve is ensuring that the value we add to business performance is always recognised and rewarded.

What are you most proud of?

It will sound cheesy, but it really is true. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not immensely proud of my team.  Whether it’s securing a full-page feature in the FT or coming up with an activation that’s blowing up on Instagram, or hearing them deliver a piece of spot-on counsel to a client, they combine persistence with a passion for wanting to do the best job possible. I have to admit my heart does also swell with pride just a little, every time I visit Diffusion’s New York offices next to the Empire State Building.

What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?

You have to learn to cope well with rejection. As you move up the consultancy career ladder and especially if you’re brave/stupid enough to decide to launch your own agency, you find that you’ve unwittingly become one of those recurring contestants on The X Factor.

You enter new business pitches and you bravely stand in front of a panel, give the performance of your life, ask them to see the “real you” and hope your talent is enough to get selected.

PR is an industry where people buy people, and it’s difficult not to take rejection personally, because in part, it really is personal. You appreciate with experience that pitches like auditions are both hugely subjective processes.

Of course few things in agency life beat the thrill of winning, but you have to learn to treat those two imposters just the same.  Then before you know it, you have to be ready to pick yourself up and do it all over again.

Who are your favourite people in PR?

You really do owe the people who give you your first break into PR an enduring sense of gratitude. I will always be hugely grateful to Kristin Syltevik and Anthony Wilson, the founders of Hotwire, for spotting something in that awkward 21 year old.

I would not be where I am now and still relatively sane, without my friend and business partner Ivan Ristic, from whom I’ve learned some of the most valuable and enduring lessons about this profession.

What skill do you think every PR has to nail?

 At Diffusion we talk about organisations and brands being involved in a relentless battle for relevance.  We are all bombarded with more information than we can handle, from more sources than ever and there are very few companies that offer something that’s truly unique.

As a PR professional whether you’re an exec picking up the phone to a journalist or a communications director presenting a strategy to the board, we need to constantly think beyond “this is what we do” to “this is why we matter” and use that as the starting point for crafting stories that really connect with the audiences we need to inform and influence.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

 A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.

Daljit will be speaking at BME PR Pros’ event ‘How to set up a successful PR agency and win big clients‘ on Thursday 5 October 2017 at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (6.00pm-9.00pm). Tickets are £20 but places are limited. Book your place now.