Roopa Ramaiya (@RoopaRamaiya) has worked in PR in both London and Barcelona for over 14 years since graduating in Journalism. She has agency and in-house experience across a broad range of sectors (B2B and B2C tech, Financial Services and Travel to name a few) and has also worked with businesses at different stages of maturity, from start-ups through to big global brands.
Roopa has developed narratives for companies at every stage of their growth including and up to IPO and for more established organisations such as HSBC and Barclays has worked on global campaigns incorporating a variety of disciplines such as social, executive and internal communications. Her global experience has resulted in a solid network and understanding of the international media landscape.
She now heads up PR for Northern and Western Europe at a cloud based SaaS business called Zendesk which has Danish roots and headquarters in San Francisco. She’s currently looking at how consumers will interact with (and what they will they expect from) businesses in the future and what companies need to do to embrace this evolution. Hot topics include the part artificial intelligence and machine learning will play in this space.
She calls London home, she’s a music geek, she speaks Spanish, she reads and she cooks.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
Kenyan-Indian, Wordy, Welsh, Underdog
How did you get into PR?
Through (initially) making the wrong choice. I chose to study Law & Politics at university and whilst it felt like the ‘safe’ route my gut told me it wouldn’t be creative enough for me. I was a straight A student, I knew English and creative writing were my favourite pursuits but I wasn’t sure what career path they could lead to that would also combine broader commercial skills.
I wrote to a load of companies from broadcasters to magazines to get some shadowing experience and a few months into my degree I made the decision to leave. I re-applied to study Journalism with English the following year and used the time in between to travel and work in Toronto.
Within a few weeks of graduating, I moved to London and landed my first job working at a small boutique PR agency before being accepted onto a graduate scheme. I dabbled in journalism along the way but was always more interested in the work the PRs were doing so that is what I had my eye on and where I eventually ended up!
What do you love about your job?
PR isn’t just PR anymore, it’s a hybrid of a number of traditional and newer marketing disciplines and I love the variety – there is absolutely no risk of being bored!
In addition, I will never forget the experiences I’ve had, from playing nice with celebrity bodyguards on a shoot to witnessing the face of founders as they see their company listed on the stock exchange. It’s your job to seek out the interesting and innovative about a business, weave it into a story and deliver a narrative that will help that business be successful. In my case, I’ve been able to travel, to learn, to witness some incredible milestones and to have a lot of fun on the way!
What are you most proud of?
Professionally: I’ve managed to move across different industries as I’ve become more senior and that is not an easy task in PR and communications. I’ve learnt from and partnered with vastly different organisations and having this exposure makes you more confident with testing out different strategies and above all…it keeps things interesting! All industries, sectors and disciplines have a lot to learn from one another.
It also means you amplify your network of journalists and get quicker at identifying the consumer and the corporate angle to a campaign. On the flipside, you have to learn fast to deepen your understanding of that particular sector.
Personally: I’ve travelled extensively but I really wanted to spend some actual time working abroad as well as learn another language and experience another culture first hand. In 2012 I left my role as a Senior Communications Manager at HSBC and headed to Barcelona where I knew nobody. It was both terrifying and exciting in equal measure. I ended up living there for almost 5 years, worked at 2 global companies with offices in the city, volunteered in the start-up community, learnt Spanish, bagged a wine qualification, ate a lot of tapas and made some incredible friends before returning to the UK last year.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
For what’s considered to be a creative industry, elitism is still rife and you’ll need to challenge the status quo at every step of the way. It’s tough trying to break through those cliques, get your ideas listened to and be given a fair chance in an environment where a lot of the faces at the top all look the same. To add to that not all companies and managers will support you to do this.
You can’t get complacent / lazy about your own success if you find yourself in this situation. Ask to be at those forums, present your ideas where you can, show commitment and if despite your best efforts you still feel like an environment is holding you back or isn’t working for you, it’s ok to move on and find one that does. The most important thing to do is always remain professional (even if those around you aren’t) and try not to burn bridges.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
The ones coming up the ranks, busting up the stereotypes. More power to them and the companies who support them.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
That you understand the strategic business objectives and that they are at the heart of every aspect of your campaign.
In addition to this, strong writing skills, understanding of the other disciplines both within and beyond Marketing and creative thinking for times when you have little or no budget.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I think they all serve different purposes. Facebook is good at keeping me connected to friends and family wherever I am or they are in the world. Linkedin is great for expanding your professional network, Twitter for anecdotal stories and news soundbites, Instagram for the more visual of us and nice pictures of food!
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Most recently it has to be the Madison Marriage of the FT. She broke the story on sexual harassment at the London Presidents Club Charity Dinner after going undercover as a waitress at the event.
Quite simply it was an exceptional piece of investigative journalism, relevant to our times now more than ever and rightfully exposing the hideous behaviour that went on behind closed doors. I wanted to shake her hand.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Take full accountability for your situation and your success and if you are not happy with a situation, change it before it changes you.
Who are you rooting for in the PR Moment Awards 2018 and why?
I really liked The Romans When Life Gives you Melons campaign for Freya Lingerie.
The campaign created a real buzz across a variety of media (I remember reading something daily) got people talking about current issues faced by Freya’s target demographic and marked a step change in redefining the brand.
I like the idea of brands producing their own original content geared around the things that really matter to their audiences.
(Side note: The recent KFC apology was also pretty spectacular as far as crisis PR goes)
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
- Promote PR as a viable, achievable and exciting profession to be a part of to both young BAME people and their families
- Improve the visibility of BAME PR professionals – we see so many of the same faces and the same all white teams time and time again
- More initiatives like this one, to mentor and support those starting out
- Measurement and benchmarking made public to show progress
Diversity is a ‘trendy’ topic at the moment, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it creates dialogue. However, let’s move the discussion on to taking real actions and if we still have to explain why we need diverse teams in PR then we have a bigger problem.