Roopa Ramaiya 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.
She’s 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 CRM 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 and you are there at every step to experience the milestones. In my case, I had a lot of fun along the way, travelled and met some amazing people.
What are you most proud of?
I broke out of my comfort zone and moved abroad to start a new role in 2012. I left the security (and salary) of my role as a Senior Communications Manager at HSBC and headed to Barcelona where I knew nobody. I switched industry sectors and took a leap of faith into the unknown … I literally had no idea what would happen or how it would turn out. As it happens it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. 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 in 2016.
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?
Those coming up the ranks, destroying the stereotypes and recognising their worth. 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?
Right now, it’s Twitter – but only when it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
At the moment, it’s Poorna Bell (@poornabell). Her writing is honest, funny and sincere as well as extremely emotive. She’s played a huge part in opening up the dialogue around mental health after losing her late husband to suicide and even though she is a mainstream journalist, many of the pieces she writes are things that will really speak to a BAME readership. You know when you find yourself looking forward to checking someone’s Twitter feed in the morning that they’ve become a favourite!
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.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2018?
I loved Manifest’s life-sized hologram of an elephant wandering the streets of London as part of the WWF’s Stop Wildlife Trafficking campaign . The subject of conservation is one that is close to my heart and it’s great to see such creativity being used for good things.
I also have to shout out the team at McCann Romania who launched ‘Bihor Couture’ and took a swipe at Dior for copying traditional Romanian designs and then whacking on a huge price tag. They came up with the idea to help support local craftsmen and keep traditional designs alive. It was a compelling story and the video they put together was gold.
In terms of the fail, well it has to be Ryanair’s (non)response to ‘that’ video. Where was the humanity?
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 also public pledges at key industry events where you can get others on board.
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.
Roopa is one of 18 mentors for the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme 2019.