Daljit began his communications career via an agency graduate scheme, cutting his teeth helping to launch a myriad of start-ups during the dot-com era. Working his way up the ranks, he then at the relatively tender age of 28, launched Diffusion in 2008 with his business partner Ivan Ristic.
As CEO, Daljit is responsible for leading the agency and helping its clients to integrate campaigns across traditional and social media channels, and build collaboration across marketing and sales departments. In 2012 he successfully launched Diffusion into the highly competitive US market, as well as cementing a global partner agency network to help brands implement campaigns internationally.
Daljit’s passion is helping brands to harness the power of PR to protect and enhance the bottom line, through earning influence. At Diffusion, these include the likes of Secret Escapes, Informa, TalkTalk, Hilton Hotels, Primark and USA Today, among others.
He is currently working with clients to help them prepare for the transformations to their business and communication processes that will come from the growing adoption of artificial intelligence and other exciting new technologies, as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Finding and nurturing PR talent at all levels is one of the most rewarding aspects of his role.
Describe your background in 5 words?
Leamington (Spa). Comprehensive. Oxford. Geography. Sikh.
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.
Biggest PR fail and yay of 2017?
Fail: Theresa May’s emotionally and intellectually deaf General Election campaign.
Yay: It has to be #MeToo.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to tackle diversity?
Play to our strengths: For me the diversity issue is not one characterised by a lack of demand or inherent hiring bias but really one of supply. Employers will continue to hire the strongest candidates for the job and we simply need more of those strongest candidates who apply to be from diverse backgrounds.
While apprenticeships in PR are opening new doors, they cannot be seen as alternative to reaching out and attracting the brightest graduates into the profession. That needs to be a standalone goal for the industry, which also has the added benefit of broadening the pool of talent we have to select from.
We need to be honest and accept that we are never going to compete with the kudos of becoming a barrister, the calling of medicine or the financial rewards of banking. While chartered practitioner status is a positive development for the industry, it’s a message unlikely to resonate with the average 18 year old.
There is a need to look again at how we are positioning PR as a profession and as a career. When did you last hear anyone complain that working in PR was boring? We need to reach those exceptionally gifted candidates, some of whom may not even realise it themselves yet, that actually want a work life that is intellectually challenging, makes a tangible impact and that also offers variety, creativity, fun and a structured career path. Let’s make sure we are selling PR in a way that connects to both the head and the heart.
Stop ignoring 50% of the population: If we want to tackle the lack of ethnic diversity and increase the size of the candidate pool, we can’t ignore the larger structural problem of the paucity of men who consider PR as a career option. There is a historic perception that still persists that PR is a career that only girls go into. I’ve seen that reflected again and again running PR graduate schemes, where male candidates make up just 15-20% of those that apply. As we look to how we position best position the profession, we need to get our appeal right and audience that makes up half the population.
Get the show on the road: How do we best start changing perceptions and driving the kinds of behaviours that will enable greater diversity in the industry? I feel we need to go back to basics and take our new set of messages directly to the people who need to hear it.
As an industry we should use the collective organisational and financial might of the CIPR and PRCA to attract ambassadors that reflect the PR industry as we want it to be seen. We then need a structured programme where these professionals visit the top 100 universities and largest sixth form colleges on an annual basis.
I admit this is not a particularly revolutionary or original idea, but it is a tactic that I know first-hand can actually make a difference and drive applications from talented candidates who were previously ignorant of what PR has to offer. Yes, career talks to students do happen, but arguably on an ad-hoc basis with the burden often falling on the relatively few agencies and brands that actively participate in the milkround.
There could be a lot of merit in creating a sustained and formalised careers speaking programme where the administration and logistics and travel costs can be co-ordinated and borne by industry bodies centrally. Industry ambassadors speaking with and meeting students would be armed with an agreed set of tested messages, so we are speaking with a consistent voice as an industry.
The aim would be to make volunteering for the campaign by busy professionals as painless as possible and thereby create a programme that could quickly scale over time.
Daljit is one of 15 mentors for the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. Applications for mentees are now open – click here to find out more. The closing date for applications is Friday 16 February 2018.