As an Account Director at Harvard, Shanil sits in the B2B PR division and initially joined the agency as an Account Executive six years ago. He’s a senior day-to-day contact across technology and marketing clients, including Criteo, Fujitsu, Kalibrate, Workplace by Meta, and Wunderman Thompson.
Shanil takes an honest and empathetic approach to leadership and invests much of his time towards developing the agency’s culture. He sits on the Taking Action committee, a group of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) professionals, that develop diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and policies. The group act as an external voice that help to guide the board’s overall approach to DE&I.
What’s more, he is a trained mental health first aider (MHFA) where he helps to foster a culture of openness and transparency, while providing wellbeing support to those in need. Shanil takes an active role in developing the company’s mental health strategy alongside the other MHFAs.
Prior to joining Harvard, Shanil enrolled in the Summer 2015 Taylor Bennett Foundation scheme. The intensive 10-week programme trains BAME graduates and helps them to enter the PR and comms industry.
Away from work, Shanil is an avid Liverpool fan, recently got married to his beautiful wife and comes from a small town in West Sussex, Crawley. He can also often be found unwinding in front of the PS5, running a 5K or bingeing content on YouTube.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Youngest, Crawley born, adopted Zambian
How did you get into PR/communications?
I owe my route into PR to the 2015 Taylor Bennett Foundation summer traineeship. Hosted by Brunswick, it taught me the basics of the industry and opened my network up to a host of agencies, in-house comms teams and so much more. The traineeship is an invaluable way to learn about the industry from experts within the industry. And not only do most of the alumni find a job in either PR or comms but they gain a family of BME professionals to lean on for support.
What do you love about your job?
For me, it’s all about culture and people. I’m thankful to work in an agency that cares about mental health, diversity, inclusion, retention, perks etc. The age-old cliché that no two days in PR are the same is true – but it’s the brilliant team around me that keep me sane and wanting to come back for more! And seeing other people succeed and knowing that you helped them is one of the best feelings ever.
What are you most proud of?
Winning Young Professional of the Year was an indescribable feeling. Never did I imagine that I’d be shortlisted let alone get to go up on stage and have hundreds of peers cheering for me. It may also be the last time I’m in that position so best believe I’m going to mention it at any opportunity that I get.
No seriously, the highlight of the night were the people who came up to me to say it was nice to see a person of colour up on stage. It gave me a sense of responsibility that I never thought I’d have to continue championing DE&I in an industry that has a long way to go to accept people from all walks of life.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
People won’t always work in a way that suits you. And that’s OK – you just have to find a middle ground that works for both parties. There will always be something that you can learn from one another, and it’s all about the attitude and mindset you take into those situations.
And in the scenarios where there is no middle ground to be found, it’s important to fight for what you believe in.
Who is your favourite person in PR and why?
I will be eternally thankful to Lorna Hughes – not only because she hired me six years ago! She was there for me when I needed therapy but didn’t treat me any differently at work. It gave me the stability that I needed and helped me to finally be comfortable in my own skin.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
The ability to communicate honestly and clearly. Every single successful account, team and agency is built on the ability to celebrate the wins and learn from the failures. But if you can’t talk about the ups and downs, you will not grow as a collective and cracks will begin to form.
What is your favourite social network and why?
YouTube! The amount of innovative, original content that can be watched on the platform is unrivalled. It’s also a breeding ground for young, diverse talent like Munya Chawawa, who now has a Bafta nominated TV show in Race Around Britain, KSI, Chunkz and so many more.
For me personally, I view KSI as an example of working hard to earn your place. He started by making FIFA videos and is now a top 40 singer, professional boxer and part of one of the most successful content creator groups in the UK, The Sidemen.
The platform is one of the few hubs where anyone from anywhere in the world can become an international star.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
Is it bad that I don’t really listen to podcasts? I feel like the whole craze missed me and now everyone loves podcasts and I would rather read a book, watch a creator on YouTube or play PlayStation. I am learning Spanish though so Duolingo is currently my most listened to platform.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I have a huge amount of respect for Amol Rajan. He broke the glass ceiling for Indian journalists and is now one of the leading interviewers globally.
He’s been the BBC’s Media Editor for as long as I can remember and created the Media Show, an excellent podcast (OK, I listen to one podcast!) that delves into the latest trends in the media, news and advertising industries.
But it’s his style of reporting that I admire most. He’s asked world leaders hard-hitting questions and is relentless with his quality of work. I’d highly recommend watching his latest interviews with Google Boss Sundar Pichai or Ian McKellen to see him in action.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
If someone treats you badly, don’t do the same back to them. Otherwise, there’s no difference between you and them.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2022 so far?
Campaign yay – I loved Netflix’s campaign to launch the final series of Afterlife. They partnered with Calm and placed benches around the UK to promote the end of the show and encourage positive mental health conversations. It’s such a simple, effective campaign to destigmatise what it means for men to reach out for wellbeing support. And it’s an example of not forcing a message or brand down consumers’ throats.
Campaign fail – I wasn’t a fan of Samsung’s smart watch campaign and the ad of a woman going for a run at 2am. Incredibly tone deaf and showed a lack of understanding towards the challenges facing women that men just don’t have to contend with.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Retention!! The biggest issue that we have in the industry is keeping BAME talent in their roles and helping them to progress into senior positions. And for me, the main issue lies in the lack of understanding of the specific stresses that Asian or Black professionals face.
For instance, I once had to work late on Diwali and absolutely no-one checked in on me or asked if I needed a hand to get out of the door. Imagine how that made me feel – I wasn’t supported and there was no compassion in the agency’s approach. The general treatment that I received from that same agency almost led to me leaving the industry.
We need more mentors, schemes, initiatives and policies in place (why isn’t the ethnicity pay gap a legal requirement yet?!) that encourage diversity across the entire sector. I look forward to becoming a mentor so I can help young talent succeed and thrive in PR and beyond.