Tanya Khanna started out as an architect before garnering veritable experience in the corporate communications sector, spanning a multiverse of domains such as architecture, design, real estate and media. Now at the helm of Epistle communications (an integrated communications agency that she founded), Tanya encourages customer-centricity and challenges her team to deliver a 'complete' public outreach solution to their clients.
This is an exclusive interview with Tanya on The Times Blog, as a part of the #TimesStories initiative.
What prompted you to switch from architecture to public relations and corporate communications?
Most Indian architects, designers and design practices steer away from communication and marketing initiatives. Indian design firms have traditionally persisted in modest and reclusive brilliance.
Today, it is critical to offer global exposure in a one-stop format to designers and structural artists. Someone needs to be protective of the sentiment of originality that a good artist pours into their work. I setup Epistle with that end in mind.
Today, we provide bespoke strategic communication consulting services for designers, architects, and members of other allied industries. As an architect and designer myself, I am acutely aware of the industrial gap between 'design' and 'practice', and bridging this gap, is my objective at Epistle.
Since the time of your launch, what challenges have you and the agency faced?
I started Epistle in 2011. It took me almost 6 months to land my first project. The earliest challenge was to explain our value proposition to our target audience. Generally, once people start working with us there is no looking back. But at the outset, a lot of them had questions about the nature of investments they were getting into. These needed to be answered. The nature of our business prevents our qualitative approach from receiving its due recognition, and it's even harder to explain on paper. The merits of a good communication/PR strategy take time to be realized in terms of absolute numbers, and we had to work with that.
Another challenge was the common notion that 'good design speaks for itself'. In the current scenario, nothing speaks for itself. Design works if it is given the right voice. Creating the right opportunities for our clients has been a gradual and time-consuming process, and we're still evolving. It helped me that I was an architect.
I know the profile of the people I am helping, I know about their judgements and reservations, and I know I can help them.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to quit mainstream architecture and get into PR, and then start your own agency?
My husband was, and continues to be my primary supporter. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have taken the risk or mustered the courage to do this.
Initially, my parents were worried about how much stress and responsibility I was equipped to handle, but today they are a pillar of my strength. My in laws and my parents are the reason I've never had to take a day off work, even when I gave birth.
And yes - friends and peers who have understood the value we bring for designers and architects, are our biggest evangelists.
How did you go about finding your customer base? Did the existing professional network help?
The segment that we target is as niche as it can get - which actually worked as an advantage. The fact that we belong to the design trade, is what makes us more suitable to the job. The fact that we come from a design background, and understand the technicalities of the industry is what makes us unique.
Creatvity is not the biggest barrier to success for young design firms. It is the visibility aspect that impacts the Howard Roarks of today. Epistle has come in at a time when nothing like this (our service) even existed to serve the needs of architects and designers, and our audience understands that very well.
Was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed with work and unable to run Epistle? What keeps you motivated?
It's always a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. We have seen good and bad days, and the only thing that keeps me motivated and at the top of my game is watching my clients win. Every time someone we represent gets an award, or gets honored or gets the right visibility, I feel motivated. I feel like I've won.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Don't worry about instant gains.
2. It is not a business. It is your life.
3. Have faith and conviction in everything that you do. We often underestimate our own selves, which is uncalled for.
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
I wish I'd started earlier. Maybe before I turned thirty. But then again, maybe I wouldn't have had the kind of exposure that helped me in the long run.
Any advice to aspiring publicists and media startups?
Believe in the value-add that your service provides, and focus on the quality of your business more than your tangible success. Money is just a by-product. If your business is successful and your clients have faith in your offerings, then success will follow.
On a more spiritual note - honesty, and a continuous focus on quality is what brings us trust from clients and gives us more work. Respect your mentors and be nice to those you work with. A good recommendation goes a long way in building your personal brand!
Is there anyone whom you want to thank?
I want to thank every one with whom I've associated for this business over the past few years. Mostly, I want to thank my clients who have also doubled up as my mentors, with their keen artistic sensibilities & understanding of contemporary Indian architecture.
Without the content they had produced, I wouldn't have had any inspiration to run Epistle in the first place!
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: The Harvard Business Review.
An original quote for your loyal customers?
“Whilst you focus on the creativity, we help you get known!"
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Answer: No Cricket.
Print, or Digital?
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?