Rashmi and Leon launched 'Storytellers 101 Communications' two years back as a public relations agency focused on vertical business models. Some of their most prominent clients have included Diebold Nixdorf, Chumbak, Milaap, Toniq Retail Brands, Triton, Supari Studios, Hardware Renaissance, Capstone People Consulting, and West Coast Adventures. The team has come a long way from their initial days, and has created a real dent in the PR universe.
Note from the editor: The team at Storytellers 101 has also been instrumental in driving a few of the most engaging stories on The Times Blog, and it is an absolute pleasure to feature the media gurus on the portal this time around, as a part of the #TimesStories initiative.
What prompted you to launch the agency? Were you, like us, inspired by Don Draper and Mad Men?
The PR (public relations) ecosystem has witnessed continuous evolution over the past few years, transitioning from a 'good-to-have' aspect for established brands, to a must-have service for any business that aspires to create veritable awareness in the public domain. Business PR is all about telling the unique story behind a brand and its people.
We (Leon and Rashmi) have been in this business for almost three decades now. Two years back, we launched Storytellers 101 with a simple focus - to tell unique stories on behalf of brands on both media and non-media platforms. We wanted to build an uber-cool agency culture of 'work-from-anywhere' as long as the client's deliverables were being satisfactorily met.
We're both pleased and proud at the fact that we have found the right mix of people who are self-motivated, dedicated, trustworthy, and understand our vision in perfect measure.
Since launch, what challenges have you faced?
Storytellers 101 Communications was incorporated in August 2016. Since then, it has been a journey of continous learning. Everyone says that, but we really mean it. One of the earliest challenges, was to get our pricing right, and to determine the category of clients we were comfortable working with. Once this was in place, we saw an upward trajectory - because working with the right clients at the right price point (read: mutually beneficial price point) goes a long way, not just in establishing business relations, but also in ensuring your own peace of mind, which will only take you forward.
Till date, we have serviced over 25 clients across an expansive network spread in nine cities.
How did your families react when you told them you wanted to run your own PR agency? No extreme reactions?
Families are usually a little skeptical when people decide to quit secure salaries in the pursuit of entrepreneurial dreams. And without doubt, the initial phases are very challenging. But when you persist, and your growth becomes both stable and apparent to your near ones, people start making sense of what once appeared like madness.
Having said that, both Leon and I are lucky to have had really supportive families.
Was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed with work and unable to run the agency? What made you continue? What kept you motivated at your worst moments?
About six months into our launch, I was about to throw my chips in. I'm not kidding, I was going to give up and shut shop. At that time, Leon's belief was instrumental in keeping us going. My loved ones also egged me on and really stopped me from giving up. Everyone who cared for me had one message - Don't give up.
The most valuable advice I received at the time, was on how to create a 'pull' for the business rather than pushing our services. We poured our efforts in that direction and I'm happy to say that it paid off. Our clients saw value in what we did, and that simple, practical piece of advice has kept us going strong ever since!
Who are you most influenced by, and what is your takeaway from their words/actions?
A lot of my loved ones have quit their high-paying jobs to pursue their own dreams and aspirations. They're all big influences on me. I always felt that if they could take the risk, maybe I could too! Leon's support remains incomparable, because he was freelancing at the time we decided to take the plunge and showed me that there was little to lose and a lot to learn.
My son, who, despite being on the spectrum for autism, continues to demonstrate an unmatched level of courage, always willing to try something new, has also been a source of strength for me.
To put things in perspective and connect the dots backward - The universe really has conspired to keep us (the Storytellers 101 team) moving forward.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Be clear on who you want to work with. 'Vibes' are very real!
2. Never be afraid to ask for your dues when you have been 'beyond diligent'.
3. Be transparent about all your financial dealings. Clear every vendor payment on time. Your reputation is at stake in such matters, and that's more important than anything else in the consumer space.
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
Dear Rashmi Then,
"Take more risks! Speak up for yourself, more often. Don't be afraid of what lies ahead!"
Any advice to aspiring publicists and media startups?
Don’t rush in! Get some industry exposure (read:experience) and then start your own venture. Always start this with a partner, because two minds are better than one. Be humble, and seek advice. Being full of yourself never was, and never will be a virtue. Lastly, there's really no alternative to hard work.
"PR is like gardening. You must be willing to take the foliage with the flowers. And you must put in the desired input to get the outcome you desire." - Leon de Souza
Is there any new product or tech (that doesn't exist today), which can help you with your business goals?
A "credit-worthiness" mapping service for client-acquisition, with an active forum where payment defaulters can be dealt with in a civil manner. Also, a standard pricing range for the industry.
These two things will ensure that there are lower, albeit consistent media advisory/buying rates, and will lead to the evolution of an industry where parallel businesses do not aim to under-cut each other, thus impacting the entire industry.
Is there anyone you want to thank?
We would like to thank everyone who has supported us, wished us well (even in a passing prayer), or perhaps recommended Storytellers 101 Communications either loudly or in a whisper.
We wish to thank all of our wonderful clients for putting their faith in us. We want to thank our team, for trusting us with their careers. We want to thank our extended families and friends for standing by us through thick and thin. Above all, we want to thank our loved ones who have put up with all our mood swings and continued to love and support us in every way possible.
Without this kind of support, it would have been impossible to embark, sustain and grow the agency. We owe a big shout-out to everyone involved!
We're in the same boat (read:business). So no more questions about publicity challenges or marketing efforts! Do you have any insights that you wish to share with our editorial/media teams?
Every single time you think of quitting and going back to a more ‘secure’ life, think of why you started in the first place.
Remember, you have not been given a dream for nothing. Think of those who inspire you and never let them down. Think of those whom you have inspired, because you can't let them down either.
Think of all the struggles that you have been through, and how easy it would have been to just become depressed, dependent or just give up. And yet here you are – you are optimistic, hopeful, beautiful, independent and every passing minute, you continue to rise like a phoenix.
Don’t forget who you are and what you are made up. With hard work, honesty, kindness and the right amount of love, impossible is really nothing.
Believe in your dream, and work towards it. Make it happen!
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: The Namesake - by Jhumpa Lahiri. For me, love and strength have been the two guiding forces in life and have let me face my challenges in style. This book embodies both of these qualities, with its mystic and breathtakingly graphic transitions between Kolkata and the states.
An original quote for your loyal customers?
“We believe in your business. We get you. That's why we're working with you!"
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Answer: Goals (Unified answer from Rashmi and Leon)
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Answer: Cricket. It's fun. It teaches you to look at life as both a participant and as a spectator, and that's really, really, important.
Print, or Digital?
Answer: Print and Digital. Both formats have their own beauty, and a perfect mix of the two is what you need to develop the right media strategy.
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?
"What comes to my mind instantly is – It's the place to be seen on. TheTimesBlog.com is interesting, informational and a platform to share knowledge and learn."
Same question, Leon. What do you think of The Times Blog?